Whether you’re for or against the impeachment of President Donald Trump, experts and historians say there are important reasons why the U.S. Constitution provides the provision for the removal of a president, vice president, federal judges and other federal officials for high crimes and misdemeanors.
Quite simply, when the well-being of the country is placed in jeopardy by the actions of its leaders, Congress must act.
“The probability of impeaching President Trump is extremely low, at least based on the evidence appearing from the transcript of the conversation with the Ukrainian [president],” said David Reischer, an attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com. “The idea for impeachment as drafted into the Framers of the Constitution was to remove a president from office that was engaged in unlawful activity.
“Technically the House and Senate can impeach President Trump purely for political reasons but the standard by which to get sufficient votes in the House and Senate is whether high crimes and misdemeanors’ have been committed,” Reischer said.
The “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” phrase is taken from Section 4 of Article Two of the United States Constitution. It reads: “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.”
The Constitution requires that a two-thirds super majority to convict a person in the Senate because it wants the removal to be a high burden, Reischer said.
“Like the Mueller report while the allegations are serious against the president, the allegations stop just short of actually concluding that a crime had been committed,” he said.
Removal is not the only reason to launch a formal impeachment inquiry, said Sam Nelson, an associate professor and chair of the political science department at the University of Toledo.
“Many observers have been focused on the futility of impeachment given that a Republican-controlled Senate will almost certainly not vote to remove the president,” Nelson said.
The impeachment investigation of President Richard Nixon proved that the proceedings can move public opinion as allegations are investigated and evidence brought to light, Nelson said, adding an official inquiry strengthens the hand of the six committees already investigating the president and his administration, the professor stated.
“These committees are locked in legal battles with the White House over subpoenas, witness testimony and executive privilege,” Nelson said. “Courts are more likely to side with Congress in exercise of its Article I power to investigate an impeachment than when they are engaged in ordinary oversight. And, perhaps most importantly, impeachment exists in the Constitution to be a deterrent to unconstitutional, criminal or illicit behavior by presidents, judges and other government officials.”
It should finally be noted that impeachment is the ultimate backstop for constitutional separation of powers and Congress’s co-equal role in the constitutional design, according to Nelson.
Impeachment, even if the Senate does not vote for removal, should act as a deterrent not just to Trump but also to future presidents of both parties, he said.
“To not open an impeachment inquiry given the gravity of the most recent allegations against the president is to give him, and all future presidents, vast, unchecked power to ignore the Constitution, the other branches of government, and the public interest,” Nelson said.
So what’s the process to impeach the president?
Historian and radio show host Michael Hart said it begins when one member of the House drafts articles of impeachment against an elected official.
Impeachment is the same as an indictment in U.S. criminal courts.
Following the drafting of the articles of impeachment, the speaker of the House decides whether to entertain the idea by convening an impeachment committee.
“This is done to discuss the merits the merits of the charges — and there could be many — and determine if support for the move is there,” Hart said.
If the charges rise to the height of impeachment — as determined by the speaker and under advisement from other caucus members, a formal declaration of impeachment is drawn and hearings begin.
At the conclusion of the hearings a determination is made whether to vote on impeachment and send the case to the Senate for a full vote on removal.
“A little-known fact is that the impeachment of a president can be originated by a senator — but that senator would have to find a House member to sponsor and bring forward the call to the House,” Hart said.
Despite little chance of success, members of the House have used or considered impeachment as a way to taint a president, Hart noted.
“It’s a public condemnation, although it can be a risky one,” he said.
It can also bring forth needed facts, something Democrats and a growing list of other observers said is needed for the current administration.
“The impeachment process is a viable option for the current House of Representatives given that the hearings will force several people in or close to the Trump Administration to testify before congress under oath,” said D. Gilson, a writer who has taught popular cultural studies. “Politically, this is smart as it will likely reveal misdeeds and contradictions leading up to the 2020 election. Judicially, this is smart as it requires folks to speak under oath, as opposed to on Twitter or Fox News.”