US OFFICIALS yesterday took the solemn step of unveiling articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, bringing him to the brink of becoming only the third US president in American history to be censured in this way. In the process, the politicians have sent a strong signal that no one, not even the US president, is above sanction.
“We must be clear: No one, not even the president, is above the law,” said House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler in making the announcement.
In characteristic fashion, Trump dismissed the developments as the continuation of a witch-hunt against him. He has denied any wrongdoing, characterising his interactions with the Ukrainian president as perfect, and has discouraged participation of officials in the impeachment process, questioning its legal validity.
Yet the House Democrats who unveiled two articles of impeachment think otherwise, accusing the president of committing high crimes and misdemeanours in the form of two specific offences. The first article alleges abuse of power. The second, obstruction of Congress itself.
Andrew Johnson survived impeachment in 1868, as did Bill Clinton in 1999. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before being formally impeached.
Though the facts are significantly different, the case against Trump, however, would appear to echo that which had been drafted against Nixon who was accused of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. There is also something of a resemblance when considering Johnson was accused of questioning the legislative authority of Congress, refusing to follow laws, and diverting funds allocated in an army appropriations act.
In theory, Trump faces removal from office in the Senate, as well as disqualification from the post of president thereafter. Removal requires a two-thirds majority, while the disqualification threshold is believed to be a simple majority.
Time will tell whether Trump will change his mind and participate in the Senate, where proceedings normally unfold in the form of a trial, with each side having the right to call witnesses and perform cross-examinations. The prudent course of action would be to avail himself of the opportunity to clear his name.
Whatever tack adopted by the various sides in this now deeply divided political and ideological firmament, it is of overriding importance that the law, including in this instance the US constitution, be upheld. This is a grave and necessary process.
A major issue is whether there are also larger grounds for examining the offence of obstruction of justice. Though Democrats have opted to zone in on two articles, not three, it is entirely open to justice officials to examine alleged criminal conduct through their own independent processes.
All of this is thanks to a single whistleblower complaint. It’s a tribute to US laws that its most powerful executive member can be held accountable by people who, despite their vulnerable circumstances, are moved to fight against a culture of wrongdoing.