’s Impeachment Trial Essay, Research Paper
There has rarely been a time in American history when the very foundations of our governmental system have been tested. The impeachment trial against William Jefferson Clinton gave the American people a chance to examine the constitutional process that our government has been founded upon. We can examine how all branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial) came together and defined their boundaries respectively. The outcome of this trial is well known, but based on the facts there are two points to examine that define the charges that were made against this president. The articles of impeachment, charging the president with perjury and obstruction of justice, given to the Senate from the House of Representatives, could have only resulted in one of three outcomes: dismissal of charges, acquittal or conviction and removal from office. For this Congress however, it was not enough to simply rely on facts when there were other variables to take into account; there were biases that clearly clouded the judgments of many Congressmen; to understand these variables that existed helps in comprehending the final outcome of the impeachment trial. The founders of the Constitution of the United States of America laid the framework for individual liberties and freedoms as well as governmental duties and responsibilities that to this day are undergoing change and refinement in order to “form a more perfect Union.” The creation of this new Constitution was unlike anything that had been created or even thought of before, and therefore led to many criticisms of its capacity to work in the manner in which it was conceived. Understanding that there may come a time in the future when a president may not perform his duties with the country’s best interests at heart, the founding fathers made provisions for just such an event if it were to occur. In the Constitution there are specific entries devoted to the topic of impeachment; these entries state what “crimes” are to be committed in order for the Congress to remove a president deemed unfit for the office. Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution states that “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.” This language may seem very straight-forward at first glance, but during the course of this nation’s history there have been times when defining what the founders meant has been difficult. Once before in American history, during the turbulent era of Reconstruction that followed the Civil War, a president was impeached by the House of Representatives and tried before the Senate. This was Andrew Johnson, like Clinton a Southerner who had alienated a majority of Republicans in Congress. The roots of the impeachment of Andrew Johnson lay not only in the increasingly hostile relations between himself and Congress, but in a peculiar feature of Republican Reconstruction policy itself. For Congress had enjoined the army to carry out a policy its commander-in-chief resolutely opposed. Even before 1867, a number of Radicals had called for Johnson’s removal, fearing that Reconstruction could never be successful so long as he remained in office. Although some Republicans had long called for Johnson’s removal, it was not until February 1868 that the House voted to impeach him. The catalyst was Johnson’s disregard of the Tenure of Office Act, which forbade the dismissal of certain federal officials without the approval of the Senate. Claiming the law was unconstitutional, Johnson removed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, an action that became the basis of the Articles of Impeachment. Most consider Andrew Johnson’s impeachment to have been a mistake. In our political system, impeachment is an extraordinary remedy, a means of protecting the political system and the people themselves against serious abuses of power. It is a blunt instrument, designed to be used only in extreme cases, not a judicial procedure to deal with every possible breach of the law. As for Richard Nixon, he resigned before a trial could commence. Now, we arrive at the present with President Clinton; the problem with this case was that there was no true precedent set for the Senate to use as a guideline. One of the major questions that came up over the course of the trial was: What constituted “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” since this president was clearly not in violation of either treason or bribery? This was the question that the House dealt with in deciding what course of action they were going to take in this case. Each level of government had major roles to play as this trial defined its course. We know exactly how the House of Representatives dealt with its role in the impeachment process. The process was this; evidence was produced and given to the House Judiciary Committee. Once it was there, that committee examined and reviewed all of the evidence and submitted it to the House floor. In the House, the articles of impeachment were voted on by the representatives; two articles passed and two articles were defeated. After the voting was completed the articles that were agreed upon were sent to the Senate, where I think the most interesting part of this entire process began. The Constitution states in Article I, Section 6 that “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside; And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present,” thus truly defining the role of the Senate in this instance. This says to me that the trial may assume any shape that the Senate wishes it to. Another thing that is learned from this passage is that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is to reign over the trial in some capacity. In the impeachment trial of President Clinton, we saw exactly what role the Chief Justice assumed. It seemed that he was serving as sort of a “middle-man” who was relaying questions from the Senators present in an orderly manner. The inception of the impeachment trial began with the initial charge of the articles of impeachment first drawn up by the House of Representatives; these charges fell under the category of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Initially there were four charges that were leveled against the president and of those, two made it through the House and landed in the Senate. The first of these charges stated that President Clinton, before a federal grand jury, provided “perjurous, false and misleading testimony” regarding his personal relationship with a government employee for his own personal gain. The second of the charges against the president stated that he obstructed justice by preventing, or impeding the administration of justice, and has “to that end engaged personally, and through his subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony related to a Federal civil rights action brought against him in a duly instituted judicial proceeding.” With these articles, the case moved on to the Senate where it was their turn to hear and decide the case.
What seems truly unfortunate is that the process seemed to evolve strictly along party lines with very few exceptions. In the House we saw that the first article of impeachment passed on a vote of 226 to 206 and the second (actually the third) passed on to the Senate by a vote of 221 to 212. Instead of seeking the truth it seemed that there were two distinct parties that were posturing to make themselves look good in the eyes of the American public. On the surface it seemed that the Republican party was doing just that, seeking the truth; if one attempts to look a little deeper, true motives surface. For several years now, the Republican party has been on a mission to discredit this president (not that he hasn’t done a good job all on his own) for the advancement of their own agenda. In this case, the Democratic party has been on its own mission to completely distance themselves from the Republicans. By continuing this objective, they were ignoring the facts in the impeachment trial and casting their votes for one reason and that was to go against the Republican party as well as the Republican agenda. The President of the United States should be one of the most influential men in our society, considering the fact that he represents this country before the world leaders. It should be a given that our representatives are law-abiding citizens of the United States, and by being a law-abiding citizen the President of the United States should be held to the same laws and punishment as your average Joe. “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” This is the oath that Bill Clinton took before he entered the office of the President of the United States. And yet he perjured himself in a court of law. As previously stated, Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution explains an impeachable offense as “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Perjury is a felony. So, why was it that people felt the president shouldn’t have been impeached; does he stand higher than the Constitution? That would be my impression if I were a foreigner, that the leader of this country is above the law. Some people say that perjury is not enough to impeach the president, yet any normal U.S. citizen would be sent to jail for a few years for lying under oath in a court of law. When he takes the oath to become president does he gain certain rights? I don’t think so. Some people would argue that obstruction of justice charge was a relatively “flimsy” one. This is true because the only way this point could be proved was to get testimony from Monica or the others involved. The other people involved are good friends of the president and I know from experience that you sometimes lie to protect good friends. I firmly believe that the perjury charge brought against the president was more than enough to remove him from office. In my opinion, the president should be held to stricter laws than the average American, because he represents the entire American public in foreign countries. The outcome of this impeachment trial, has in my opinion, changed the role of the presidency forever. Some of the questions that will need to be answered include how we deal a sitting president who has committed a crime; where is the line that he may cross when we as a people say enough. Can we truly define and separate a small crime from a larger one? The questions continue, but one thing is certain and that is how careful the next president will be to fill his constitutional obligation to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. My feeling is that the next president will walk a very straight and narrow line by showing in his actions what a president is and how a president behaves, not only in his private life but in his public life as well. My personal opinion has been clear thus far. There was more than a significant amount of evidence to order a conviction against the president. We have in place a Constitution and set of laws that defines what to do in situations of this magnitude. The Constitution defines what to do in these cases and does so quite clearly; whether it be a crime committed by a federal judge or by the president of the United States. If one is to make a judgment about the case, public opinion about the matter is irrelevant. The Constitution states clearly that not just the president, but any civil officer of the United States is to be removed from office if he is found guilty of committing the acts described in the Constitution. The major questions are easy to answer: 1. Did the president intentionally lie under oath while giving his grand jury testimony? 2. Did the president convince others to give false testimony while they testified under oath thus obstructing justice? My answer to the first question is with out a doubt, yes he did knowingly lie to the grand jury. Not only did he give false testimony while under oath, he repeatedly lied to the American people, proving that he is untrustworthy to begin with. On the second charge of obstruction of justice, I think that it is more difficult to prove. I would like to have seen more evidence to support the claim of wrongdoing. With this president’s track record, it may be assumed that he did obstruct justice, but in a court of law, proof is needed. Where the supreme law enforcer of this land is concerned, no crime is excusable no matter how small or insignificant it may seem. My real concern is not so much with the president as with the people of this country as a whole; as long as people continue this attitude of not concerning themselves with the actions of the public officials there will be no change in the present system. The whole reason for the establishment of this government was to get people involved, and it is appalling to see the people of this country care as little as they do about how their leader behaves and disrespects them and the United States. Source Information includes: Black, Charles L. Impeachment: A Handbook. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974.