Impeachment of the President is once again on people’s lips for the third time in my lifetime. Certain Republicans are already doing all they possibly can to derail the Mueller probe and dismantle the FBI investigation. In my view, they are shooting themselves and President Trump in the foot; they should want all the facts out and on the table for public viewing and Congressional consideration. They will pay a big price in the November’s elections if they succeed in obfuscating and obstructing a legitimate probe by a well-respected law enforcement leader; some Republicans understand this. Democrats too could overplay their hand by going off on a weak and partisan case; some seem to understand the peril while others clearly do not. Impeachment is an extraordinarily serious undertaking requiring bi-partisan consensus to be successful. It requires a majority vote in the House and a 2/3rds vote in the Senate.
President Andrew Johnson was impeached in the House and escaped conviction in the Senate by one vote. He began life as an indentured servant to a local tailor and ran away. He was a strong supporter of poor white Southerners as opposed to the plantation and slave owning aristocracy; he was a leader in efforts to pass a Homestead Act so that poorer landless farmers could acquire and settle their own farmland. He had been a pro-Union Democrat from Tennessee, who also supported slavery. He was elected Vice President on a Union ticket with Abraham Lincoln in 1964. After Lincoln’s assassination, he became an accidental President. He helped secure states’ ratification of the 13th Amendment, which prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States and its territories. He vetoed the Civil Rights Act as well as the 14th Amendment, which protected all Americans from state and local discrimination and guaranteed due process, equal protection of the laws and citizenship to all Americans. His vetoes were over-ridden by Congressional Republicans, and the 14th Amendment was then ratified by the requisite numbers of state legislatures. He opposed giving African Americans the right to vote, which was subsequently guaranteed against federal, state and local actions by the 15th Amendment. He had leading Generals like Philip Sheridan removed from their roles in supervising Reconstruction in Texas, Louisiana and other Southern states because they were protecting Southern blacks and interfering with white Southerners’ efforts to retake their pre-war political and economic power and return Southern blacks to a status as close to slavery as possible – the Black Codes and the terror of the Ku Klux Klan. He removed Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, against the express direction of Congress, which then became the grounds for his impeachment. While there was ample disagreement about whether he had committed high crimes and misdemeanors, there was ample evidence that he was doing all within his power to blunt and obstruct Reconstruction and emancipation of African American freedmen throughout the South. The Republican Party majority was split between the radicals and the moderates; several Republican moderates saved him from conviction.
President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 to avoid near certain impeachment in the House of Representatives and conviction in the Senate. It began with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee, followed by a cover up orchestrated by all the President’s men. The President’s men kept an enemies list for investigation and break-ins. The President’s men conducted an illegal fund raising operation with lots of corporate cash under the table. The scandal included firing a special prosecutor and the leaders of the Justice Department. Eventually the President’s counsel, John Dean, came clean before Congress and the release of the White House tapes provided the smoking gun, proving the case beyond any doubt.
President Nixon had squeaked to victory in 1968, enabled by splits within the Democratic Party over the Vietnam War and the third party candidacy of segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace. The passage of the Civil Rights Act had already turned the solidly Democratic South into fertile territory for the Republican Party, which began to abandon its support of Civil Rights. By 1972, Nixon won in a landslide winning every state but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. There was no really good reason why the President embarked on his Watergate schemes; he was in no danger of losing the election of 1972. He had major foreign policy successes with Nixon to China, arms limitations with the Soviets and developed major domestic initiatives to relieve poverty and provide universal health coverage. His fall was due to classic paranoia and insecurity married to hubris.
President Bill Clinton was impeached by the Republican House in 1998 for lying about and then trying to cover up his affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. His Republican opposition had a special counsel, Kenneth Starr, appointed to investigate his failed investments in the Whitewater Development Corporation in Arkansas, alleging that there was corruption during his tenure as Governor of Arkansas. When the investigators turned up no culpable wrongdoing on the part of the President, the investigation shifted to President Clinton’s testimony under oath about an affair with a White House intern in a lawsuit brought against the President by Paula Jones. The Republican majority in the House impeached the President with only a handful of Republicans dissenting. After the Senate trial, the President was not convicted. The vote on the perjury count was 45/55, and the vote on the obstruction of justice count was 50/50; a two-thirds vote was required for conviction. To most independent observers this was a complete partisan travesty orchestrated by Speaker Newt Gingrich and his lieutenants after the 1994 election had resulted in a substantial House Republican majority which was then counterbalanced by the overwhelming re-election victory of President Clinton in 1996.
Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin