Reading time: 6-8 minutes.
With the 2020 presidential elections around the corner, the race for the coveted position has become controversial. Recently, the news of the impeachment proceeding against the 45th US President Donald Trump captured headlines all over. The impeachment of President Trump took place on December 18, 2019, after the 230 votes were cast in the favour of the House of Representatives against the 197 against it.
There were two charges levelled against him by the key committee viz., abuse of presidential power and obstructing Congress. The article of abuse of power contains the alleged solicitation of foreign help by Trump to sway the 2020 election to his prejudice. The second article is the obstruction of congress by failure to cooperate in the investigations of the House.
Trump is the third President to face the impeachment trial of Senate after Andrew Jonson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. The said process commenced in the backdrop of a whistle-blower complaint against President Trump in August 2019. The complaint was filed by an anonymous CIA officer in a letter in which showed his concern regarding the telephonic conversation between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky dated July 26, 2019.
The controversy revolves around the alleged phone call made by President Trump to President Zelensky to congratulate him on his election victory. However, the two spoke of much more, as alleged by the officer on the account of representation by almost a dozen people who overheard the conversation between them.
The phone call was made after the United States suspended its $400 million military aid to Ukraine. It was purported to be a ‘bargaining chip’ to create pressure on Ukraine to investigate into the discredited allegations of corruption against the former Vice-president and Democrat’s 2020 presidential election top horse Joe Biden. It was done so to strengthen Trump’s chances for his possible second tenure in the White house.
What is the stated purpose behind the impeachment?
On December 10, 2019, two articles of impeachment were passed by the key committee viz., (i) abuse of power and (ii) obstructing the Congress. The House of Representatives voted on these two charges against President Trump. The impeachment proceedings stand on two cornerstones.
The first is Trump’s attempt at using foreign influence to rig the 2020 presidential elections, by sledging his political opponent to boost his re-election agenda. The second allegation was levelled due to his refusal to cooperate with the Congressional inquiry.
The Ukraine Scandal – Background to the current controversy
For a better understanding on the context of Trump’s impeachment, we turn back to the epicentre of the incident: the Russian invasion in Ukraine in 2014. At that time, Biden as the Vice-president constantly persuaded President Obama to take stringent measures against Russia, to which the President was hesitant. Later, Biden prompted the corruption rampage in Ukraine by persuading its leaders.
It came at the time when Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden was appointed on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Trump alleged that Joe Biden abused his vice-presidential power and influence to bury the corruption investigations implicating his son. However, this imputation was widely discredited, and the allegations were not proven substantial against neither Joe nor Hunter Biden.
What is the impeachment process in the US (for the Head of Executive)?
The Constitution of the United States gives to the Congress the authority to remove the President of the United States from office by impeachment in two separate proceedings:
- The first one takes place in the House of Representatives which impeaches the president by approving articles of impeachment through a simple majority vote.
- The second proceeding, the impeachment trial, takes place in the Senate.
Conviction on any of the articles/ charges requires a two-thirds majority vote and results in the removal from office. The impeachment process is mainly governed by Article I, Section 2, Article II, Section 4 and Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States.
Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States gives to the Speaker, the sole power of impeachment. The House of Representatives has the exclusive power to impeach the President and Senate conducts the trial and investigation for the same.
The House thus can exercise discretion over whether to impeach an individual and what articles of impeachment will be presented to the Senate. The President of the United States can be impeached only on the grounds of Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanours.
The trial is conducted by Senate and is presided by the Chief Justice. After the trial is concluded, for the conviction of the President, a two-thirds majority of the present Senators is required on one of the articles brought by the House.
The judgment of the Senate shall be restricted to the removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honour, Trust or Profit under the United States. However, the Party convicted shall be liable to the trial and judgment of the Law in force.
The current status
After the voting in the House of representatives, the impeachment of Trump is in its second stage. The process is set to move to the senate for the trial proceedings presided by the Chief Justice.
What is the impeachment process in India (for the Head of Executive)?
Article 56 of the Constitution of India provides that “the President may, for violation of the Constitution, be removed from office by impeachment in the manner provided in article 61.” Article 61 of the Constitution of India states that to start the impeachment proceeding, a 14-day prior notice signed by not less than one-fourth of the total number of members of the house is provided mentioning their intention to move a resolution proposing to prefer charges against the president. Now that resolution must be passed by a two-thirds majority of the house.
Once the resolution is passed and a charge is preferred by a house, the other house must investigate the charge or cause the charge to be investigated. In this stage, the president is given the right to appear and represent himself at such an investigation.
After the investigation, if the house which investigated the charges, passes a resolution by two-thirds of the total membership, stating that charges preferred against the President have been sustained, such resolution will result in the removal of the president from his office from the date on which it was passed.
The Democrats are all set to overthrow Trump’s regime but as the impeachment process is proceeding, questions are also arising as to the consequences of the impeachment. If he is convicted by the senate, Vice President Mike Pence would take his place. If he is not convicted there can be a two-way effect on his campaign.
It may either strengthen it by amassing huge support against the impeachment and can prove a fundraiser boon; or it may completely backfire, and can hamper his election campaign.
Author: Sakshi Jha from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.
Editor: Anna Jose Kallivayalil from NLU, Delhi.