The term ‘impeachment’, when used in the Congressional context, refers to the filing of formal charges against a federal official in the House of Representatives, and not actually removing the official from office. If the House impeaches, the Senate then holds a trial on the afore-mentioned charges to decide whether the officer will be removed from the office. According to the US Constitution, a president can be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours”. Impeachment is meant to be a political act, and not a legal one, and hence there are no clear rules for judging when a president has crossed the constitutional line; this explains the ambiguity in the latter part of the statement over what constitutes an impeachable offense.
In the case of Donald Trump, the House voted to impeach him on two charges: abuse of power for domestic political advantage and obstruction of Congress’ abilities to hold him accountable. Trump was accused of pressuring the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to conduct an under-the-table investigation on former US Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, undoubtedly with the intention of extracting damaging information on one of his main Democratic contenders for the 2020 presidential election. Trump apparently withheld $400 million of military aid to Ukraine that had already been allocated by the Congress, and a White House meeting for the Ukrainian President, as part of the bargain.
Using the office for personal political gain in such a manner, and leading to the detriment of national security added up to abuse of power, and Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the Congressional inquiry amounted to obstruction of Congress, both of which were taken up by the House during his impeachment proceedings. The Democratic dominated House passed both articles of impeachment, making Trump the third US president to have been impeached.
Taking a closer look at the events that prompted the impeachment inquiry, there have been assertions that Trump was engaged in impeachable activity even before assuming office in 2017. Accepting payments from foreign dignitaries, alleged collusion with Russia during his election campaign, multiple instances of alleged obstruction of justice are among many in the list. A Republican majority House back then made certain that none of these issues culminated into an impeachment proceeding; but with Democrats gaining control of the House in 2019 and Trump’s continued disregard for the sanctity of his office, the possibility of impeachment only increased.
However, people are only too familiar with the nature of Donald Trump and his well-known controversies; be it allegations of sexual assault, racial housing discrimination, mafia ties, the infamous Trump University, his list of scandals is endless and dates back to his days as a real estate tycoon. And having grown up as the son of a millionaire real estate developer, always getting away with everything, the Trump-Ukraine scandal should not come as a surprise, since it is definitely not the first time he has resorted to unfair tactics to benefit himself; in fact, holding the highest office of the country made it difficult for him to shun all opposition and get away with yet another of his whims.
Donald Trump is not the only president to face impeachment, though. After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, his vice president Andrew Johnson assumed office, as well as the responsibility for Reconstruction after the Civil War. His ideas clashed with the Radical Republicans of the Congress, and in retaliation the latter passed the Tenure of Office Act, which barred the president from replacing the members of his cabinet without the approval of the Senate. Johnson, however, fired his Secretary of War, an ally of the Radical Republicans, and consequently had to face impeachment charges on eleven counts. He was impeached, and narrowly avoided a guilty verdict in the Senate by a single vote.
Another president with a history of numerous professional and personal scandals, Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, on counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. A botched business deal, allegations of sexual assault, and denial of the latter under oath are what led to the inquiry against Clinton, and after a heavily publicised case, he was impeached in the House of Representatives, but he was acquitted on both counts in the subsequent Senate trial.
The greatest political scandal in US history, however, involved Richard Nixon, who resigned before the House had a chance to impeach him. If he had not resigned, he could have been the first President to be impeached and removed from office, given the gravity of the crimes he committed. The Watergate Scandal began one early morning on June 17, 1972, when members of Nixon’s reelection campaign were caught wiretapping phones and stealing confidential documents from the office of the Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate complex of buildings in Washington D.C. Nixon, after being reelected, hatched a plan to instruct the CIA to hinder the FBI’s investigation of the crime. Such abuse of political power and deliberate obstruction of justice was more serious than the break-in, and when the details of the scandal were uncovered by two Washington Post journalists, Nixon chose to resign than be removed from office.
As was the case with the Johnson and Clinton, it is pretty obvious that Trump will be acquitted too in the Republican led Senate; moreover, public support for Trump’s impeachment and removal rarely crossed 50%. In fact, there is little to suggest that the entire episode puts Trump in a worse position politically for his reelection campaign. The truth is that much of the US remains as polarised now as they were in 2016, if not more; there are masses that share Trump’s views on making America great again, and as long as the Democrats concentrate more on humiliating Trump than addressing more important issues relating to the people, they will find it difficult to bring back those Democrat voters who had switched over to the Republican side in 2016, let alone garnering support from Republican voters. If the primary aim of the Democrats is to lead the country again, they must get over their petty issues with Trump and focus on the people of America.