Just this week, an article from POLITICO claimed that Donald Trump, Jr. may have delivered “smoking gun” evidence against his father. That’s not the first time that this term has been thrown around during the Russian collusion scandal, nor will it be the last. Does that mean Trump will be impeached? Not necessarily, but many experts are nonetheless betting on it. Here’s a rundown of what it takes to get impeached, who’s tried in the past, and what the experts predict about Trump’s future.
Constitutional Qualifications for Impeachment
Despite the fact that the impeachment process is long and complicated, the Constitution doesn’t have much to say about when a President qualifies. The full text of Article II Section 4 of the Constitution, which discusses the qualifications for impeachment, simply says:
“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 Misdemeanors.”
As you can see, this is relatively short and leaves plenty of wiggle room for debate and interpretation. The qualifications for impeachment even change over time; in the Information Age, our definition of a “high Crime” is likely very different from what the Founding Fathers had in mind.
Because of this, the impeachment process relies much more on history, precedent, and culture. To make an educated prediction about Trump’s future, you first need to look to the past.
History of the Impeachment Process
Only two Presidents in the history of the United States have ever been impeached–Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. And even so, no president has ever been removed from office.
Confused? The impeachment process actually takes two steps, impeachment, and removal. First and foremost, the House of Representatives holds a vote to decide if a President qualifies for impeachment. If the majority votes that the President’s alleged crime is severe enough to qualify for removal, his status becomes “impeached”. But that doesn’t mean that his status as President is revoked. Instead, the debate continues to the Senate, where he is put on trial for his crime. A guilty verdict from two-thirds of the Senators leads to removal, and the Vice President takes up his office.
Most people know that Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but it’s important to note that the crime was perjury, not the affair itself. An affair does not qualify as a “high Crime”. In the end, the Senate acquitted him and he finished his second presidential term.
In Andrew Johnson’s case, he violated the Tenure of Office Act, a law meant to keep him from taking total control of the Civil War Reconstruction. In the eyes of the Senate, this law was unjust in the first place, so Johnson got to keep his spot in the White House.
Even though he wasn’t officially impeached, it’s also crucial to understand Richard Nixon’s fall from the Presidency. After denying his role in the Watergate scandal, where spies wiretapped a Democratic conference to gain intel for Nixon’s re-election campaign, compelling evidence was released that the President actually knew about and supported the criminal efforts. This key piece of evidence, known to history as the “smoking gun” tape, was a recorded conversation between the President and one of his advisors about the heist.
Nixon resigned before Congress could start impeachment proceedings, so he was never officially removed from office. However, his resignation proves that removal was highly likely. Today, this case serves as a point of reference for Trump’s potential impeachment because the details of the two scandals are strikingly similar.
What the Experts Say About Trump
As you can see, historical context and political opinion are crucial to a successful impeachment. A survey of the general public by The Independent found that a whopping 42% of people are in favor of Trump’s impeachment, compared to the 24% who wanted Nixon out of the White House. That’s a big deal.
But since impeachment is determined by the House and the Senate, this public opinion won’t have much bearing on the official proceedings. Here’s what the experts are saying about today’s political climate in Congress and how it could play out for President Trump.
Former Justice Department prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg is concerned about the Trump presidency in light of DJT Jr.’s recent email release, calling it “extremely damaging.” He concludes that the email chain “certainly shows an intent to collude with the Russian government,” a crime that could qualify for impeachment.
In addition, the Economist Intelligence Unit, a panel of 300+ judicial experts, have recently raised Trump’s impeachment likelihood from “low” to “moderate”. And on the most extreme end, Texas Representative Al Green has confidently started to draft out impeachment papers and proceedings.
But there are still a few people who think Donald Trump is safe. Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group and prominent geopolitical analyst, is one of those people who claim that “impeachment’s a very high bar” and “there’s nothing that I’ve seen so far remotely that implies that Trump has done something that would hit that bar.”
All things considered, connections between the past and the present sure seem to point to an imminent impeachment. Between the Russia controversy, foreign policy failures, and low approval ratings, things aren’t looking good for the Trump presidency.