Impeachment 101: What You Need To Know


Dr. Diane Heith, Dr. Carolyn Abott and Dr. Fred Cocozelli, three professors in the Department of Government and Politics, spent their common hour on Thursday, Oct. 17 giving a “crash course” lecture on impeachment and the steps the legislative and judicial branches of government would have to take for President Trump to be impeached and removed from office. Speaking on the 4th floor of the D’Angelo Center, Heith started with a disclaimer saying, “Unfortunately, we had to stop making the slides at some point, so the things going on right now are not in the powerpoint.”

Dr. Heith began explaining, in short, how we got to where we are today in terms of the impeachment effort. Trump pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son in exchange for US aid. Then, career bureaucrats, [those not elected by Trump] protested, and a whistleblower filed a complaint. Congress investigated the whistleblower complaint with acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, prompting Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to call for an impeachment inquiry. The House of Representatives issued a subpoena, but the White House along with several bureaucrats refuse to cooperate.

But what does the Constitution say about impeachment? It says that the House has a responsibility to bring a case against the president, and then, as Dr. Abott said, “The Senate makes the rules for the trial and the senate is also the jury for the trial.” The problem lies in the vague wording of a very crucial part of the document: “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” (Article II, Section 4). Dr. Abott went on to explain that behavior that violates an official’s duty to the country, even if such conduct isn’t exactly a “prosecutable” offense would be an impeachable offense. Its purpose is not to inflict personal damage on a person’s reputation, but to increase the level of democracy, and it should help preserve the government by removing individuals unfit for office who abuse powers of government and violate public trust.

At this point, there are four potential outcomes. The first is that nothing happens, meaning no Articles are brought forth by the House of Representatives. While this is possible, it would not look good for re-election campaigns of major officials. The second option, and most likely, according to Dr. Abott, is that the House passes the Articles and the Senate acquits or at least draws it out past the 2020 election. This is likely to happen because the Republican party has control of the Senate, and therefore would need every Democrat and several Republicans to find President Trump to be guilty. The third option is that the House passes the Articles, the Senate convicts him, and Trump is the first president to be removed from office via impeachment. The last option is that President Trump resigns, which is likely if the Senate convicts him. With each day comes a new headline about the impeachment effort, making the third option now, according to Dr. Heith, “a non-zero possibility.”

Dr. Heith, Dr. Abott, and Dr. Cocozelli concluded by emphasizing the consequences for both parties. Dr. Heith claims that the political repercussions for republicans are a lot higher because, should Trump be convicted, those who did not vote for conviction cannot explain themselves or justify the outcome. Heith concluded by explaining the extent to which our political system is being corrupted saying, “Republicans have given the party to Trump, it is the Trump party… He owns it, he is it, the brand is now interchangeable.”

The three Government and Politics professors, staying past the scheduled time to answer the many questions students had, encouraged us to not lose hope. Dr. Heith explained the effect that approval ratings have on our representatives by concluding in saying that, “It means, by definition, we matter.”