President Trump Is Impeached: Now What?
Elizabeth Van Nostrand, JD, and Tina Batra Hershey, JD, MPH
“ASSAULT ON AMERICA.”
In our September 6, 2019, blog “Impeachment by the Numbers,” we described the processes for impeaching and removing a president from office. So what’s happened since then? On December 28, 2019, the US House of Representatives voted, for the third time in our nation’s history, to impeach a sitting president. The House concluded that President Trump committed two high crimes and misdemeanors: He abused the power of the presidency by soliciting Ukrainian interference in the 2020 Presidential election (Article I of the impeachment resolution); and he obstructed Congress by defying subpoenas for documents and testimony (Article II of the impeachment resolution). President Trump’s reaction? The proceedings constitute an “ASSAULT ON AMERICA.”
“I want an immediate trial.” ~ Tweet from President Trump
Although some assert that the impeachment process began the day President Trump was elected, formal proceedings commenced after a series of events occurred this past summer. On July 25, 2019, President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a telephone conversation that became the focus of a seven-page whistle-blower letter written to the House Intelligence Committee by an unidentified member of the intelligence community. The letter alleged that President Trump compromised national security by urging the Ukrainians to investigate interference in the 2016 election and nefarious undertakings by the family of former Vice President and current Democratic presidential candidate hopeful Joe Biden.
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On September 24, 2019, a formal impeachment inquiry was instituted by six House committees: Financial Services; Foreign Affairs; Intelligence; Judiciary, Oversight and Reform; and Ways and Means. Shortly thereafter, subpoenas were issued to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, Vice President Mike Pence, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, United States Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and others to provide documents and testimony concerning the contents of July 25th phone call. On October 8, 2019, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter announcing that the White House refused to cooperate with the investigation because it “violates the Constitution, the rule of law, and every past precedent.” Further, the letter asserted that in order to fulfill his duties, President Trump would not participate in a “partisan and unconstitutional inquiry.” Similarly, Mr. Giuliani’s attorney sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee refusing to provide subpoenaed documents, citing attorney-client and executive privilege.
A few Washington insiders ignored President Trump’s edict order not to participate in the investigation and cooperated with the impeachment inquiry. In October, depositions of Marie Yovanovitch, former United States Ambassador to the Ukraine; Kurt Volker, former Special Envoy to the Ukraine; and about two dozen others were taken by the combined Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees. While the depositions were open to committee members from both parties, the Republican party was unhappy with the process. In protest, Republicans who did not serve on the committees stormed the high-security room where the depositions were held. Open hearings began by the Intelligence Committee on November 13, 2019, and concluded later that month. Witnesses included Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council Ukraine expert; Maria Yovanovitch; and the US Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.
“Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG!” ~ Tweet from President Trump
On December 3, 2019, a draft report of the impeachment inquiry was released. The House Intelligence Committee voted 13-9 along party lines to adopt the report. On December 6, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone reaffirmed the White House’s refusal to offer a defense to the allegations contained in the report or cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
It takes a simple majority of House members to pass a resolution on articles of impeachment. Currently there are 431 House members – 233 Democrats, 197 Republicans, and 1 Independent — so 216 votes constitute a simple majority. With respect to Article 1, 229 Democrats and 1 Independent voted in favor of impeaching President Trump for abusing the power of the presidency and 195 Republicans voted against impeachment. Democratic House members Collin Peterson (MN) and Jeff Van Drew (NJ) sided with the Republicans. Three House Members did not vote: New York Democrat Jose Serrano was ill; Illinois Republican John Shimkus was traveling outside of the country; and, upon advice from the House Ethics Committee, California Republican Duncan Hunter was silent because he pled guilty of using campaign money for personal expenses earlier in the month. Tulsi Gabbard, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate contender, voted “Present.”
With respect to Article 2, 228 Democrats and 1 Independent voted to impeach President Trump for obstruction of Congress. All the Republicans voted against impeachment, except for Congressmen Shimkus and Hunter. Maine Democrat Jared Golden joined Congressmen Peterson and Van Drew in voting against Article 2. On the Democrat’s side, Serrano did not vote due to illness and Gabbard once again voted “Present.”
“Now the Do Nothing Party want to Do Nothing with the Articles.” ~ Tweet by President Trump
The Senate has the authority to determine its own rules with respect to impeachment [See Nixon v, United States (1992)], including how witnesses will be called. Speaker Pelosi has refused to move forward with sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate until she receives clarity on the rules of the Senate trial. When the articles are sent, members of the Senate will act as jurors and determine whether President Trump should be removed from office. A two-thirds super majority of Senate members, or 67 votes, will be required to remove President Trump from office. Currently, there are 45 Democrats, 53 Republicans, and 2 Independents in the Senate. Even if all of the Democrats and Independents vote together, 20 Republicans would need to vote against party lines to remove President Trump from office.
As House Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader McConnell battle over the terms and procedures of the Senate trial, legal scholars are currently debating whether the impeachment will stand if Speaker Pelosi refuses to send the articles of impeachment to the senate.
Stay tuned and more to come in the new year!
Read all columns in this series:
- September Is Sepsis Awareness Month
- Impeachment by the Numbers
- Contradictory ABA Letters Reflect Divisiveness of Our Country
- President Trump’s Emergency Declaration Concerning the Opioid Crisis
- Justice Gorsuch’s Potential Impact on Public Health
- “Stroke of the Pen. Law of the Land.” The Power and Appeal of Executive Orders
- 21st Century Cures Act: Laudable Goals but Public Health Programs Pay the Price
- Environmentalists Score Big in Their War Against Fracking
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Elizabeth Van Nostrand, JD, is an Associate Professor and the Director of the MPH and JD/MPH Programs in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Pitt Public Health, an Adjunct Professor in the School of Law, a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fellow, Director of Pitt Public Health’s JD/MPH program, and Principal Investigator/Director of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Training Center. [Full bio].
(Photo: University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health)
Tina Batra Hershey, JD, MPH, is an Assistant Professor, Health Policy and Management, at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She is also the Assistant Director for Law and Policy at the Center for Public Health Practice at Pitt Public Health, where she researches legal, policy, and ethical issues related to the delivery of health care and emergency preparedness. [Full bio].
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