Things are NOT looking good for President Trump as the House continues moving forward with impeachment proceedings. The closed-door meetings are generating the type of circus-like environment, not seen since the days of Nixon.
If you’re wondering what an actual impeachment trial may look like…the rules for the process are much clearer than the possible outcome.
Never before has a president actually been forced out of office due to an impeachment trial in the Senate. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are still the only Presidents ever to be tried, and both were eventually acquitted. Richard Nixon resigned from office, rather than face what would likely have been certain conviction, and also his removal from the office.
The Watergate hearings, as well as Clinton’s impeachment trial, offer a look at what President Trump is actually facing. Let’s look at the process itself and speculate on the script they may be likely to follow.
Crafting Articles of Impeachment
Before a trial is even conducted, the House must settle the question of the charges themselves. The articles of impeachment have to be formally adopted, and while not all of the charges may be accepted in the final version, the list of potential charges is much larger than those faced by the previously impeached chief executives.
In fact, Clinton was only tried for two of the four charges initially brought against him. Nixon never faced trial, but his articles of impeachment contained three specific charges. With Trump, words such as “treason, bribery, and ‘other’ high crimes and misdemeanors” flow easily off one’s tongue.
While one may think the list of charges is going to contain a litany of Trump’s wrongdoings, others feel the final charges will be so specific, and so overwhelmingly conclusive, that there should be little doubt the Trump presidency will be forever stained by the impeachment process itself, regardless of the eventual outcome.
While many people think a case against Trump is easy to build, it is not. Whether or not the articles of impeachment will focus on one of the following possibilities is still being debated:
If one were to look back at Nixon, the House could charge Trump with (1) abusing the power of his office, (2) obstruction of justice, (3) contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas. (4) tax fraud, (5) violation of the Emoluments clause, (6) and violation of federal campaign laws. It would seem the House has a plethora of potential crimes from which to choose.
— Reuters Politics (@ReutersPolitics) October 24, 2019
House ‘managers’ and readying a Senate trial
The House will next appoint “managers” to prosecute the case in the Senate once articles of impeachment are adopted. The managers will present the charges and formally request the Senate prepare for the trial.
Most people readily agree Adam Schiff of California, a former prosecutor who has been leading the impeachment inquiry as House Intelligence Committee chairman, will almost certainly be appointed as a manager. The other managers will be left for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will decide.
Who will the witnesses be? Expect the witness list to be short, but only if history is to be your guide. Clinton’s trial only had three, all testimony was done behind closed doors, and only portions of depositions were actually shown at trial.
For Trump? Honestly, it’s too soon to tell, but depending on the actual charges, that witness list could eventually be explosive, if not damning, to the president.
The Supreme Court’s (small) role in proceedings
Trump has “justice” on his side. That “justice” is Chief Justice, John Roberts. The Constitution specifically dictates the Chief Justice presides over an impeachment trial.
Roberts however, would be more of a facilitator rather than a final arbiter. He would make routine decisions about the presentation of evidence, and settle issues of procedure, but the Senators may override the decisions with a simple majority vote.
What will Roberts do? Look for the Chief Justice to give all appearances of neutrality, and let the Senators have their fun.
Deliberating the evidence, and delivering a verdict
As in a typical jury trial, an impeachment trial ends with deliberations. The deliberations could be done in public…or in private. The Senators will decide — one-by-one, each will deliver their verdict.
To remove Trump from office requires two-thirds of the Senate to vote for it. In this case, it will need the votes of 20 Republican senators (if EVERY Democrat and BOTH Independents vote for removal, too). If Trump is acquitted, it’s game over, with Trump remaining in office.
A conviction would put the country into an unprecedented situation, with Vice President Mike Pence being sworn quickly into the office. How would THAT process actually occur, and HOW would the citizenry react? Trump has alluded to the fact that his ultimate removal would lead to civil unrest….and possibly even a second civil war.
Let’s hope he’s wrong…about the Civil War, anyway.
Tuck is a retired business executive, turned educator/writer/and snarky mofo! Tuck is a veteran of the US Navy where he was an air traffic controller. In his early years, Tuck was a standup comedian, and has performed in many major LA comedy clubs, usually performing as an amateur on “open mic” night, and begging for people to listen!
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Brett is the Managing Editor of this website. A former business executive turned teacher, activist, and writer, Brett also operates an anonymous Twitter account with a very large following.