“The Founding Fathers intended for the impeachment process to be a last resort,” Dr. David D. Chambers said. “It is intended for more serious breaches of public trust.”
However, in the case of Trump, Chambers said, “it may be a little too early to tell” if such a consensus can be achieved.
Chambers, 66, believed “a broadly shared conviction that it is appropriate” probably led to President Richard Nixon choosing in 1974 to resign rather than be impeached.
He said the turning point for Nixon was when defenders such as Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., went into the Oval Office and told him, “I can no longer defend you.”
But Chambers didn’t think such a consensus existed for either of two impeachments of U.S. presidents — President Andrew Johnson in 1868, during the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, and President Bill Clinton in 1998.
But in general he said the process is the same that was used in both the Nixon impeachment inquiry and that which led to the impeachment, but later to the acquittal, of Clinton early in 1999.
“Typically it has been the (House) Judiciary Committee that prepares the articles of impeachment,” the IUP professor said.
In the case of Trump, the process started in the House Intelligence Committee, whose report will be taken under advisement by the Judiciary Committee.
Chambers said that report may be delayed because House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is saying he is not foreclosing the possibility of seeking more witnesses and more evidence.
It is important to understand that impeachment does not remove a president from office.
Eventually, if the House votes to impeach Trump, Chambers said the Senate will sit as a court over a trial, where the House will send over managers and “the president will have counsel as well who will offer evidence.”
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court serves as presiding judge over such a trial.
“There may be legal processes that emerge out of an impeachment procedure, but the impeachment procedure is a political process,” Chambers said.
He qualified that, saying it is political as Alexander Hamilton described it in the Federalist Papers, where “it touches the civic character.”
Also, he said, “given the absence of any specific constitutional guideline, each succeeding Congress is going to look at the precedent set by the preceding Congress. That is always a concern and that’s why the House tends to move carefully, the Senate tends to move carefully” through the process.
“In broad strokes,” Chambers said the Constitution does not specify a process for impeachment, saying, “the Constitution leaves it to both houses (of Congress) to determine their own rules and procedures.”
The IUP professor pointed to a survey last week that found 70 percent of respondents were giving “a great deal of attention” to the House Intelligence Committee hearings, but found an almost even split between those who favor the process (45 percent) and those who oppose it (44 percent).
“I am troubled. We are in a new era where it is very easy to communicate with people,” Chambers said.
That includes the use of Twitter as an art form, as Trump has done.
“It troubles me when the president is commenting on the personal integrity of witnesses,” he said. “I would have preferred if the president had kept his own counsel a bit more. I think that does not do him or the process any good.”
Some commentators have suggested censuring the president.
“This conversation occurred in the Clinton case as well,” Chambers said. However, “there is no formal censure procedure that I am aware of.”
There are investigations of Trump going on outside of Congress, on the federal and state levels, affecting him personally, as well as his businesses and his inaugural committee. Probes are reported in New York, New Jersey and California.
“The impeachment process says nothing about the sort of legal jeopardy a president might be in,” Chambers said. “He is still subject to the laws of the United States. The impeachment process does not hold the president harmless.”
He said those investigations and what is going on in the U.S. House may be interrelated. However, “the outcome of the impeachment process (if the Senate votes to convict) is removal from office, period. The punishment is removal from office.”
In his political science classes, Chambers said, “we certainly discuss it,” but he’s finding students “weren’t paying a lot of attention because for them we don’t have a fall pause.”
IUP students have had classes continually from Labor Day until this week’s Thanksgiving break.
“They have been working pretty hard and are in need of a break right now,” Chambers said.
He said a lot of students have not had the opportunity to watch the hearings, “but it is clear to me they remain interested” in what is going on, even if they have to follow the proceedings through means other than television.”