Saturday, Dec 09, 2023 | Last Update : 12:42 AM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  25 Jun 2017  Can Trump be impeached?

Can Trump be impeached?

The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai
Published : Jun 25, 2017, 12:10 am IST
Updated : Jun 25, 2017, 12:10 am IST

On June 14, the Washington Post reported that Mueller was investigating the President for possible obstruction of justice.

US President Donald Trump (Photo: AP)
 US President Donald Trump (Photo: AP)

Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” Henry II’s exclamation was properly understood by his courtiers to be a royal command, and Thomas Becket was murdered.

A similarly veiled command by a head of state lies at the heart of the incipient moves for the impeachment of President Donald Trump. When he summoned the then Federal Bureau of Investigation director, James Comey, to the Oval Office on February 14, Trump told him, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

He was alluding to Michael Flynn, whom he had sacked only the day before as national security adviser. In his testimony to the US Senate intelligence committee on June 8, Comey said, “I took it as a direction.” Trump took care to ask all others, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and his son-in-law and close adviser Jared Kushner, to leave the room before broaching the subject with Comey.

At a news conference on May 18, Trump was pointedly asked, “Did you, at any time, urge (Comey) in any way, shape or form, to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?” The answer was more revealing in its abruptness. “No, no. Next question.”

All this supports Comey’s assertion that he was dismissed because he was investigating charges that “the Russians interfered in our elections” against Hillary Clinton and in favour of Trump.

That web of “the Russian connection” between Trump’s associates during and after the election campaign is for the recently appointed special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to unearth.

On June 14, the Washington Post reported that Mueller was investigating the President for possible obstruction of justice. The articles of impeachment framed against Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton cited, among the charges, obstruction of justice as well as telling lies.

However, both Nixon and Clinton faced a Senate in which each had majority support. Trump’s Republican Party commands a majority in both the House of Representatives, which files the charges, and the Senate, which tries the President. At the Senate intelligence committee’s proceedings on June 8, the split along party lines was very evident.

Article 11, Section 4 of the US Constitution provides, “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 misdemeanours.” It is now firmly established that obstruction of justice constitutes a misdemeanour; specially if it is compounded with lies. The process begins with an investigation by the judiciary committee, which may recommend articles of impeachment to the full house.

Members vote on each article. If a majority of the house ratifies one or more articles of impeachment, the case against the President proceeds to a trial by the Senate, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Senate has the power to convict and remove the President by a two-thirds vote of those present.

When the house judiciary committee voted on impeachment against Nixon, it asserted that grave “transgressions can crack party loyalty; six of the committee’s 17 Republicans joined all 21 Democrats in backing two of the three articles that the committee endorsed”. Faced with a certain vote in favour of his impeachment, Nixon resigned.

It all depends on what the special counsel finds, those findings’ effect on the Republican ranks and the surge of public opinion.

Nothing but a false sense of prestige prompted the successors of the British Raj to opt for this highly political process of impeachment for the removal of the President and judges of the Supreme and high courts. The last impeachment took place in Britain in 1806.

For years, impeachment has been a thoroughly discredited process. In 1967, a report of the House of Commons select committee on parliamentary privileges recommended that “the right to impeach, which has long been in disuse, be now formally abandoned”. Professor Hood Phillips said in 1973 that “impeachment may be said to be now obsolete”.

When, in 1990, there was a rash of cases of judicial corruption, the then Indian Chief Justice Sabyasachi Mukherji characterised impeachment as being “practically impossible”. “The process is just too cumbersome.”

A judge of the Indian Supreme Court, Justice V. Ramaswami, was found guilty of grave charges by a committee of three judges. On May 11, 1993, the Lok Sabha rejected a motion for his impeachment by 196 votes for it, none against — but 205 abstentions, which robbed it of the 273 votes needed for its adoption. The abstentions were ordered by Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao. Impeachment is discredited, yet it is not pronounced dead. It only helps to protect corrupt judges.

By arrangement with Dawn

Tags: donald trump, james comey, hillary clinton, richard nixon