Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) has officially filed the first bill enumerating articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump. The charge? President Trump attempted to hinder the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn by first asking former FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation and then by firing Comey from his position.
These articles of impeachment are just as expected as they are legally dubious.
Sherman’s allegations of “high crimes and misdemeanors” in his articles of impeachment are simply the position of the majority of the Democratic Party put into writing. Rank-and-file Democrats, including Texas’s own Al Green, have expressed since day one of the Trump presidency that they have no intention of letting the fledgling president serve in the office that the American people elected him to. First, it was the insinuation that he was an “illegitimate” president as he did not win the popular vote. Then it was the launch of an inquiry into Trump’s campaign for the presidency on the unfounded allegation that he or his associates colluded with the Russian government to win the presidency. When that did not stick, they attempted to claim that the president was mentally unfit to serve. However, when the President fired the FBI director, the Democrats struck with the claim that Trump had been attempting to obstruct justice.
The filing of articles of impeachment is hardly a new concept in politics. As many obviously remember, we have seen two presidential impeachments (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton), both of which were acquitted. Many credit the articles of impeachment filed against Richard Nixon as the reason for his resignation, however, something that needs to be noted following the latest push for impeachment is that every single president since Ronald Reagan with the exception of President Obama has had articles of impeachment filed against them. Reagan had them filed for the Iran-Contra Affair; Bush for the Cold War; Clinton, of course, for obstruction of justice and perjury; and George W. Bush for a litany of reasons including the Iraq War and Valerie Plame incident. As such, why is it such a surprise that Donald Trump, in such a heated state in American politics, would be the subject of such articles of impeachment?
House Resolution 438, as the articles will be called once they are formally filed, will undoubtedly have an uphill slope in their quest to remove the president for many reasons. First and foremost, the House of Representatives is held and run by the Republican Party, who has no political incentive to take up the articles in committee or on the House floor. Such action undoubtedly would be akin to political suicide for GOP leaders; Speaker Ryan, along with the House leadership, has made it clear that they support the President and allowing such articles to proceed would likely require clear evidence of criminal wrongdoing or at least that Trump was endangering their majority in the House. Furthermore, if the articles made it out of committee and onto the floor, the impeachment resolution would require 19 Republican representatives to vote for the resolution with no Democrats abandoning the bill. That would be essentially getting 19 Republican representatives to give up their public careers as they likely would be portrayed from then on as traitors to the Republican Party.
Another question that should be asked: has Trump performed an action that would rise to the level of impeachment? It appears that the answer to that question thus far is no. Democrats have leveled many accusations at the President, but these accusations have finally narrowed to the obstruction of justice charge that is described in full in the articles of impeachment. This charge itself is legally dubious. The charge hinges on the idea that the President terminated James Comey from his position as FBI director in order to stop an investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. However, that narrative doesn’t necessarily fit. President Trump, along with many other Republicans and even some Democrats, have all previously expressed their disdain for the actions of the former FBI director during his three-year tenure. Many agents were even disgruntled with the handling of the FBI investigation in Hillary Clinton’s email server, something that many Republicans including the President have repeatedly criticized Comey for. It was a shock to many that Trump didn’t fire James Comey when he was inaugurated as president, and it appears unlikely that Trump fired Comey for the specific reason of impeding his investigation. Beyond that, it’s also worth noting that while FBI directors have been historically independent of the president, they are presidentially nominated and they remain an employee of the Justice Department, which is, in turn, an employee of the executive branch. In his capacity as president, Trump is legally allowed to fire any employee of the executive branch for any reason. Though the reason for his firing is questionable, James Comey was legally eligible for termination by President Trump.
The Democrats have been attempting to remove Donald Trump by whatever means necessary since he was inaugurated. However, is this really any different from every other presidency?