The case for impeachment is writ in stone but removing the President is not likely to happen
US President Donald Trump claimed recently that he had done enough for world peace to deserve several Nobel Prizes for Peace, if only the Norwegian Academy had been fair.
He added that the Academy had awarded the prize to former US President Barack Obama, much to the consternation of Obama himself.
In actual fact, the demand among his own people is not for the Nobel for him, but for removing him from the Presidency through impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanours”.
The moves to impeach him came even before he was sworn in, as his victory at the polls was largely unexpected. But impeachment is not determined by popular sentiment, but on the arithmetic in the House and the Senate. On the other hand, popular sentiment may catapult him to the Presidency again.
According to the US Constitution, the House has the “sole power” to impeach a President, and if impeached, a President is tried by the Senate and removed only if convicted there.
The President is likely to be impeached given that the Democrats have a 234-197 majority over the Republicans. But the Republicans are in a majority in the Senate. In this situation, the merit of the case for impeachment is irrelevant.
Among the three cases of impeachment, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton survived by narrow margins, while Richard Nixon escaped removal by resignation. There is very little chance of Trump being removed from office through impeachment.
The impeachment moves against Trump had gone on throughout his first term, but many believe that he might be re-elected. For this reason as well as the comfortable majority he enjoyed in the Senate, the Democrats were half hearted in their effort to impeach him even after the Mueller Report had virtually indicted him for seeking Russian assistance in getting elected.
If telling lies is a serious misdemeanour, he has earned many points for impeachment. The Democrats kept talking about impeachment, but no decisive move was taken till Trump hit where it hurt most, when he tried to get the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden disqualified by colluding with the Ukraine Government.
An impeachment inquiry against Trump was initiated on September 24, 2019, by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives. It began after a whistle blower alleged that President Trump and top government officials had pressured the leaders of foreign nations, most notably Ukraine, to investigate political opponents of Trump, abusing the power of the presidency to advance his own personal interests.
These allegations have been corroborated by testimony so far by the US Envoy to Ukraine, the top Pentagon official who was overseeing US policy regarding Ukraine, and at least seven White House administration officials and many other witnesses.
The reports implicated Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and other individuals as part of a quid-pro-quo campaign to pressure the Ukrainian government to take actions which would be helpful to Trump's 2020 presidential campaign. Additional allegations of misconduct emerged in the days after the announcement of the impeachment inquiry.
Subsequently, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, announced that the House will hold a formal vote on the impeachment inquiry to determine whether Trump had violated his oath of office by pressuring Ukraine’s President to investigate Mr Trump’s political opponents.
Members of the House will now have to go on record with where they stand on the impeachment.
The Trump administration insists that the ongoing inquiry is not constitutionally valid, having not been put to a vote. A federal court had, however, ruled that the inquiry was legal.
Nevertheless, Ms Pelosi is not taking any chances. “We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives,” Ms Pelosi said.
The legal rigmarole will drag on, both sides claiming tactical victories, but the impeachment, even if approved by the House of Representatives, will have an impact on the Presidency only if twenty Republicans in the Senate cross the floor to ditch the President.
But instead of pleasing the fellow Republicans – allowing them, perhaps, to air light criticisms of him for the sake of credibility in exchange for their promise to protect him with their votes – Trump has resorted to threats and shaming, declaring Republicans who oppose him to be “human scum.”
Analysts believe that Trump’s real problem is that the facts are against him and they are indefensible. “President Trump’s substantive defense against the ongoing impeachment inquiry has crumbled entirely – not just eroded or weakened, but been flattened like a sandcastle hit with a large wave,” wrote the Brookings Institution senior fellow Benjamin Wittes.
The next step is for the House to take a vote to set out the rules and procedures for the impeachment inquiry. The resolution has already been drafted by the Democrats and the House is likely to adopt it. The Chairman of the House intelligence Committee will then hold public hearings, in addition to the closed-door interviews and gathering of evidence he has already done.
The case will then go to the Judiciary Committee, which has the right to seek additional information. Once they determine that the evidence is sufficient, they will recommend formal articles of impeachment to the House to vote on.
These procedures have a tendency to drag on and the President is not restricted in any way in carrying out his responsibilities. One recalls how Bill Clinton went about taking major decisions on running the state even as the Capitol Hill was pursuing his impeachment. Trump will also be able to influence the proceedings through loyal Republicans in the House and the Senate.
The Democrats know well that the whole exercise is futile in terms of removing the President, as the Republicans will not abandon their own President, however unhappy they might be with him on his unconventional and unpredictable behaviour.
The President is also enjoying enhanced popularity on account of the performance of the economy and his recent success in eliminating Abu Bakr Baghdadi.
The purpose of taking a serious view of the Ukraine episode is to impress upon the Ukrainians that any quid pro quo they work out with Trump to hurt Joe Biden will have far reaching implications, though the failure of the impeachment exercise is a foregone conclusion.