Commentary: Impeachment, Frying Pan Or Fire

first_imgBy John INDIANAPOLIS – Soon enough, we’ll know how it ends.One of the curious things about the unfolding story involving the likely impeachment of President Donald Trump is just how many people on both sides know, know, know with absolute certainty how it will unfold.Trump’s diehard Republican defenders say there’s nothing there, that the impeachment proceedings are nothing more than presidential persecution. Many ardent Trump haters in the Democratic Party say this president has been dirty from day one and he’s about to get what he deserves.Well, soon enough, we’ll know.Part of the confusion stems from a lack of understanding about the impeachment process. In the first place, it is a political process, not a criminal trial.That makes the arguments advanced by the president and his devotees that his “due process” rights have been violated nonsense. If absent extraordinary circumstances, a president easily could face criminal charges, Donald Trump likely would have been indicted for obstruction of justice because of the way he conducted himself during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.But the fact that impeachment is not a criminal trial means the elected officials working through the process don’t have several centuries of precedent to guide them.In the two other times in American history, presidents have been impeached in the House of Representatives and tried in the Senate, members of Congress and the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court have asked the same questions.What are we supposed to do?What are the rules?The Constitution is vague regarding those questions. Our founding document establishes with clarity that the House – and the House alone – has the authority to determine whether and how the impeachment process should proceed. It also makes clear that should the House pass by majority vote articles of impeachment, a trial in the Senate must follow and that two-thirds of the Senate must approve those articles before a president can be removed.But the Constitution is nowhere near as clear – beyond the reference to “high crimes and misdemeanors” – about what constitutes grounds for impeachment, much less removal from office.That vagueness probably was deliberate.The drafters of the Constitution were trying to walk a line.They didn’t want to make impeachment too easy or too convenient. They didn’t want presidents thrown out of the office and the results of national elections disregarded on a whim.But they also did not want presidents to think they were kings. They didn’t want America’s chief executives to think they could operate without restraint, that there was no way to curtail rampant abuses of power.In some ways, Donald Trump is the perfect test for the impeachment process.He may be the only person left in America who thinks the phone call in which Trump tried to pressure Ukraine’s president into digging up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden’s family was “perfect” and did not cross a line or violate a law.But the sheer shabbiness of the shakedown attempt creates its own line of defense.It’s a viable defense that, for all the wrong reasons and over the president’s objections, Republicans have landed upon and begun to advance.It goes like this: Yes, what the president did was wrong and even may have broken the law, but is it big enough to merit doing something that we Americans never before have done in our history – removing a president from office?That’s a momentous question.Either way, we go, a dangerous precedent will be set.If the president is removed, then we can expect impeachment to become a regular part of our lives. One look at the U.S. Senate, where the “nuclear” option now has become the normal one regarding Supreme Court nominations and the rules are rewritten on a regular basis, shows how quickly institutional safeguards can be eroded and then erased.But if Donald Trump isn’t held accountable in some fashion, he and all future presidents will know they can flout the law with impunity so long as their party controls at least a third of the Senate.Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.That’s where this story ends.How we get there is the question.Soon enough, we’ll know.FOOTNOTE:  John Krull is the director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.The City-County Observer has posted this article without opinion, bias or editing.FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img