Impeachment is the most confusing and misunderstood process in America’s Constitution.
In particular, many people have three huge misconceptions about impeachment. These false assumptions make it hard to determine what people think about impeachment and the players involved.
“The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 4
The three popular misconceptions about impeachment are:
1. Impeachment is a Criminal Trial
Even some sophisticated observers; such as Michael Moore, believe impeachment is a criminal trial.
This confusion occurs because the Constitution uses the terms: “Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” In addition, the Chief Justice oversees the U.S. Senate impeachment hearings.
In an impeachment hearing; however, the Senate is not trying to determine guilt. Instead, the Senate is conducting a job evaluation of the President. If the Senate finds the President unsatisfactory it can remove him from office.
Notice the only punishment the Constitution specifies for impeachment is removal from office. Nowhere does the Constitution mention a criminal punishment for an impeached official.
Another good way to think of impeachment is as similar to a vote of no confidence in a parliamentary system. To explain, a parliament can remove a government by voting it no longer supports the prime minister. Thus, the government no longer has the authority to govern. In the United Kingdom or India, a vote of no confidence can force an election.
It will be up to the U.S. Justice Department to indict Trump and the courts to convict him. Consequently, Trump will not be taken away in handcuffs if they impeach him.
In fact, Trump will be free to keep running for reelection if they impeach him. Ironically, the U.S. Senate could impeach Trump and voters could reelect him in November.
This explains why Republicans are so afraid to convict Trump. They fear that candidate Trump could come to their states or districts and campaign against them if they to for impeach them.
2. There is a defined Process or set of Rules for Impeachment
The Constitution offers no rules or guidelines for impeachment. Instead, the conduct of impeachment proceedings is up to the leadership of Congress.
Thus, the Democratic Congress was able to investigate President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) with no public hearings. Likewise the Republican U.S. Senate is under no obligation to allow witness testimony or hearings at the impeachment.
This creates a conflict between Senate Republicans and House Democrats because they have different ideas about how to run impeachment. Yes, there are historical precedents but they conflict.
For instance, Republicans allowed open hearings during the 1999 Clinton impeachment, but Democrats did not in 2019. In fact, as far as I know there is no case law; or precedent, that requires witnesses at an impeachment.
Remember, impeachment is not a criminal trial so the rules of court procedure will not apply. For example, there is no right no jury or protection from double jeopardy. Thus, Congress can impeach the President as many times as it wants and accept whatever evidence or testimony it wants.
- S. Supreme Chief Justice John Roberts could disrupt that process; however, by ruling the Senate has to call witnesses. Hence, Roberts could throw the entire impeachment proceeding out.
3. Impeachment means the End of Donald J. Trump
Impeachment is popular because many people falsely believe that impeachment will get rid of Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) once and for all.
Trump will still be with us after impeachment. However, Trump will be out of the White House.
Thus, the Donald will keep Tweeting, campaigning for reelection, appearing on Fox News, giving interviews, and could launch his podcast. Consequently, Trump could be more popular and influential after impeachment.
In particular, Trump will be free to hop on his private jet and fly off to campaign against anybody who voted to impeach against him. Thus, Trump could make life miserable for any anti-Trump Republican.
Importantly, the Donald could turn any primary challenger to a major Republican into a serious candidate. To explain, if U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) votes to impeach Trump. The Donald could campaign for whatever wingnut is challenging her in the primaries.
Trump’s involvement could help the Wingnut win the primary and end Collins’ political career. Trump will not care if the wingut loses the general election because his goal will be revenge on Collins.
Therefore, people who hope impeachment will make Trump go away are mistaken. I suspect the Donald will be with us for a long time, even if he is outside the White House.
As you can see the popular assumptions about impeachment are wrong. Therefore, the impeachment process will not achieve the results people want.
Originally published at https://marketmadhouse.com on January 12, 2020.