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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Until the last quarter of the 20th century, the American people had experienced only one presidential impeachment. Abraham Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, was impeached but not convicted. in a trial that ended on May 16, 1868, the Senate fell one vote short of the required two-thirds majority to remove Johnson from office.
Among other charges, Johnson was impeached for violating the Tenure of Office Act when he fired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton without Senate permission, a legal requirement at the time.
Richard Nixon Quit Before Congress Could Impeach Him
President Richard Nixon was almost impeached in 1974. The House of Representatives was considering impeachment charges of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress for his role in the Watergate scandal. However, Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace on August 9, 1974, before he was formally impeached.
Since then, the House of Representatives has impeached only one other president.
President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for obstruction of justice and for lying under oath about his affair with a White House intern. Despite having a Republican majority in early 1999, the Senate failed to attain the two-thirds majority needed to convict the Democratic chief executive on either of the two articles of impeachment.
Recent Events Put President Trump in Jeopardy of Impeachment
Events of the past few weeks in particular suggest that another impeachment is on the horizon. At least half a dozen congressional committees are examining whether President Donald Trump should become only the third chief executive to be impeached. And again, obstruction of justice is one of the possible articles of impeachment Congress is considering.
The call to impeach Trump intensified late this summer after Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded his report that Moscow had indeed meddled in the 2016 presidential election. As Benjamin Wittes wrote in The Atlantic, “Mueller does not accuse the president of crimes. He doesn’t have to. But the facts he recounts describe criminal behavior.”
Trump called the report exoneration, “though Mueller neither charged nor exonerated the president,” Reuters noted.
Allegations against Trump Increased after Whistleblower Came Forward
The allegations against Trump increased after an unidentified whistleblower documented a number of potential illegalities by Trump that have proven to be true. Bowing to pressure from her own congressional Democrats, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on September 24 announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions.
The Washington Post explained that Trump was accused of “violating the Constitution in seeking help from a foreign leader [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] to damage a political opponent,” Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden and his son.
“The revelation prompted a rush of moderate House Democrats to call for an impeachment inquiry into Trump, a step they had resisted for months,” the Post added.
Similarities between Nixon and Trump’s Actions as President
Some historians and political observers have pointed to similarities between Nixon’s actions during the Watergate scandal and Trump’s actions in withholding congressionally authorized funds for Ukraine in exchange for a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens.
Trump also may have obstructed justice by refusing to turn over documents related to Ukraine demanded by Congress. He also has prohibited key administration officials from testifying on these matters before the investigating committees.
Both Presidents Have Been Controversial, Dogmatic and Demanding
Nixon and Trump are similar in another aspect, too. Both presidents have been controversial, dogmatic and demanding. Nixon was despised by many Americans; Trump is probably despised even more, especially within minority groups.
Both loathed the press. Nixon was suspicious of those around him. He kept an “enemies list” that included a large number of journalists. Trump demands total loyalty and is not afraid to fire his advisors and Cabinet appointees.
Their prior experience, however, is where the similarities end.
Nixon served in the Navy in World War II. After his discharge he was elected a U.S. Congressman, then a Senator from California and served as Eisenhower’s vice president for eight years from 1953 to 1961. He was an attorney and acknowledged foreign policy expert whose greatest act of diplomacy was visiting Communist China in 1972 that led to full diplomatic relations.
Trump, a real estate developer and TV personality, came to the White House without any military or government experience. He quickly grew to hate and distrust the mass media, going so far as to label the press “the enemy of the people.”
Trump’s fame came from his successful TV show “The Apprentice,” which premiered in 2004. Each week several contestants vied for a job with the Trump Organization. One contestant was fired each week until there was a single winner. Trump has been accused of running his administration the same way.
Nixon and Trump Forged a Cadre of Hard-Core Republican Supporters in Congress
Both presidents had a cadre of hard-core Republican supporters in Congress and among conservative groups. However, Nixon’s Republican support in Congress cracked when the Watergate charges against him proved to be true. He chose to resign rather than be removed from office.
Trump, on the other hand, insists the charges against him are nothing more than a Democratic-“witch hunt,” even though 17 former Watergate prosecutors called for his impeachment.
Rather than providing any evidence to refute the charges, Trump tries to deflect the allegations through his social media tweets and regular appearances on Fox News. He has even challenged the legitimacy of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits presidents from accepting money or gifts from other nations. His many hotels and resorts around the world are regularly patronized by world leaders and groups seeking to curry his favor.
Trump’s Congressional Support Remains Steady
Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, Trump’s congressional supporters and public base have largely remained loyal to him. Many Republicans say the charges do not rise to the level of impeachment. They claim that Democrats are angry and trying to undo the results of the 2016 presidential election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, has conceded that the Senate would have “no choice” but to convene a trial if the House passes articles of impeachment against Trump. But he is not yet ready to concede that Trump’s behavior merits impeachment.
The next few weeks may just open a Pandora’s Box as more officials testify before the investigating committees. The House may have no choice but to send the Senate articles of impeachment against Donald J. Trump. Whether he can survive and keep the presidency remains to be seen.
Times have changed dramatically since Nixon waved good-bye to Washington from the steps of a military helicopter on the White House lawn. Today there is a great maw in America that has split this nation in two like nothing since the Civil War.
Will a Trump impeachment and conviction help heal the wound or expand the chasm? No one can say for sure.