Accused presidents remain in office

US impeachment proceedingsFirst Clinton, now Trump?

The inhibition threshold for impeachment proceedings against an American president is high. Richard Nixon thwarted preparations for impeachment by stepping down. Before Bill Clinton, only Andrew Johnson was charged in 1868 and later acquitted.

Wh. Of January 7, 2009

Johnson had taken office as Vice President after the death of Abraham Lincoln, so the trial against Clinton was the first ever against an elected American president. Professor Susan Low-Bloch is a constitutional lawyer at Georgetown University:

"It is a drastic measure and an important one, because we do not know the instrument of the vote of confidence, as in Europe. Within one term of office, the dismissal procedure in the event of an offense is our only option."

The corresponding passage in the American constitution, article two, paragraph four, begins comparatively precisely and ends vaguely: "The president should be removed from office for conviction of treason, bribery and other serious crimes and misdemeanors," it says. For an opposition looking for a promising trial of strength with the president, the latter fact offers many possibilities.

(dpa / Xinhua / Li Muzi)CDU politician on impeachment proceedings: "Trump could still benefit from it in the end" CDU politician Peter Beyer believes that a possible impeachment trial against Donald Trump is more likely than ever before. At the same time, the US president could benefit from it in the event of an acquittal. The whole thing is risky for those who initiate it now, said Beyer in the Dlf.

And Republicans have had Bill Clinton in their sights practically since he took office in 1992. The reasons for this were abundant from the conservative point of view and the reasons for this lay not least in the person of the president, in the nature of Bill Clinton himself. Allan Lichtman, historian at the American University in Washington, points to the ambivalent image of the 42nd American president .

"His private life was certainly immoral, but he was able to overcome weakness through successful politics."

Ex-intern in the White House, Monica Lewinsky, testified in front of the grand jury for almost nine hours (dpa / AFP / Tim Sloan)

It was women’s stories that almost brought down the politician Bill Clinton. Not one, several. When Paula Jones, an Arkansas secretary, sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment in 1994, the President first tried all possible means to prevent the trial. The Supreme Court ruled in Jones' favor three years later. Clinton had to answer, and it was during the investigation that the name Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern, appeared in public for the first time. The President will be questioned under oath on January 17, 1998. Regarding the allegation of an affair with Lewinsky, Clinton said in the questioning and also in public, words that have lingered on him for a long time and that are the basis of the impeachment proceedings a year later:

"I had no sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, I did not incite anyone to lie," said the president, "never".

Allegations Against Clinton: Perjury and Obstruction of Justice

Special investigator Kenneth Starr believes, after years of fruitless investigations against Clinton, that he has finally reached his goal of having something that can be used in court, and in the second half of 1998 the development accelerates. Starr accuses Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice. Anyone who wants to can now get an idea of ​​the Clinton / Lewinsky affair. Presidential seed stains on Lewinsky's dress and the value of cigars for sex games are discussed not only in gossip columns, but also in the political section of the newspapers. The President will be questioned again in August. Clinton admitted encounters with Monica Lewinsky in which he behaved so literally "wrong". Clinton continues:

"There was no sexual intercourse. It was not a sexual relationship as I understood the term when I testified in January."

US special investigator Starr defends his actions against US President Clinton in cross-examination (picture-alliance / dpa)

No matter how hair-raising the president's quibbles were found, Clinton was forced to legally reconcile his two statements. On the same day, the president addressed the nation: his statements were legally correct, but he had withheld information, admitted Bill Clinton.

For the population, impeachment was a republican maneuver

Public opinion was on his side at this point and later. Not so much on the side of Bill Clinton, but on the side of the president and his administration, according to historian Allen Lichtman of Georgetown University. The public was therefore against impeachment proceedings, the majority saw it as a political maneuver by the Republicans:

Constitutional lawyer Susan Low-Bloch once again recalls the criteria for impeachment proceedings: "It should be an offense that puts the country in grave danger; if you lie about an affair, that is hardly the case."

But that is a view of things. The Republicans in the House of Representatives represented a very different one. False testimony under oath, regardless of whether it was about private or public affairs, was sufficient in their opinion, indeed it required a procedure, they said. Henry Hyde in the House of Representatives, a few weeks later chief prosecutor in the actual trial: "This is perjury."

In November there were congressional elections and the Conservatives promised a significant strengthening in Congress. But Democratic MP Charles Wrangel had the right nose. The way they judge the president, voters will judge them, he warned Republicans. The Democrats were actually able to gain. The election result, a good omen for the president.

US President Bill Clinton and his advisors are trying to prevent impeachment proceedings from being initiated (dpa / AFP / George Bridges)

But the impeachment procession could no longer be stopped, it was driving on predetermined tracks. The indictment was prepared in the House of Representatives. Henry Hyde chose to summon only one witness, Special Counsel Kenneth Starr. In the Legal Affairs Committee, there were arguments about the contradiction in Clinton's statements, which was obvious to many. But his defenders asserted differences in definition. Here is an excerpt: Republican Bob Inglis asks, Clinton's defense attorney Greg Craig answers. Beyond splitting hairs, Craig stated, referring to Clinton's first statement denying a sexual relationship, "I admit his statement was evasive, incomplete, misleading, even unbearable, but it wasn't perjury."

Clinton: "I was just too embarrassed"

On December 19, 1998, history was made in the House of Representatives. Immediately before the vote on an indictment, the President spoke with a statement:

"The people and the Congress should know: I am sincerely sorry for my mistakes in words and deeds. I shouldn't have misled anyone, I was simply too ashamed."

But on this day there is no room for mercy and mercy in the House of Representatives. Two out of four counts are accepted. After 1868, the MPs decide the second impeachment proceedings against an American president. The indictment begins January 9th at 10 a.m. in the Senate, according to Majority Leader Trent Lott.

Impeachment or acquittal

The procedure began with reasonable seriousness along a set of rules. And in the end, so the founding fathers wanted, there could only be an impeachment or an acquittal. A compromise, a reprimand, for example, was impossible, according to Susan Low-Bloch:

While the House of Representatives could pass the indictment with a simple majority, it needed a two-thirds majority in the Senate. But that was not in sight, according to historian Allen Lichtman:

"Actually, Clinton was never in danger, the unity of the Democrats was foreseeable and the Republicans were dependent on support."

With a total of 55 senators, the Republicans lacked 12 votes to a two-thirds majority. But above all chief prosecutor Henry Hyde was not deterred:

"The future meaning of the formula" I swear "depends on you. Will it be strengthened to ensure justice or become arbitrary?"

The prosecutors presented their arguments for two days, then the defense advanced. Charles Ruff: Whatever you think of Bill Clinton, the husband, political friend or adversary, husband and father, just ask yourself: Should Bill Clinton, the president, be removed from office, are we at the point where? this land can only be preserved through this step that the founding fathers envisaged as a last resort? "

Clinton's speech to the nation - the US was booming

In a sense, the defendant appeared in the middle of the trial as a defense attorney on his own behalf. Just hours after the defense attorneys first appeared, the President delivered his annual State of the Union address to the assembled Congress. And in retrospect, the contrast could hardly be greater. The superpower was booming, money was made in the World Trade Center, Iraq, for the Americans that was at best a page in the history book. In terms of foreign policy, Bill Clinton could point to new jobs and a budget surplus.

Negotiations continued in the Senate. The fronts were hardened. The Democratic Senator Charles Schumer from New York complained that there were no new facts. Three witnesses were videotaped. Henry Hyde could not get further witnesses, why he needed some now when he had only summoned one in the House of Representatives, was asked. Robert Byrd, a kind of veteran of the Senate, moved the case to be closed.

Once again the Republicans achieve a small success. They reject the position with 56 to 44 votes, but minority leader Tom Daschle knows how to interpret this result skillfully:

"244 senators voted against the indictment, so the president will ultimately stay in office, in the interests of the country we should come to an end quickly."

Defense attorney Dale Bumpers: "This is a sex scandal"

In the words of Chief Prosecutor Henry Hyde a short time later, the imminent defeat already hints at: 'We have to finish this one way or the other, after you have voted, we will go our way politely and with gratitude'.

The appearance of Dale Bumpers is remembered as one of the most effective speeches. He had represented Bill Clinton's home state of Arkansas in the Senate for 24 years and left just days before the trial began. Now he was returning as Clinton's defense attorney. With a mixture of humor, farmer cunning and common sense, Bumpers spoke from the soul of many:

'I see, you were glad you got rid of me right now,' joked Bumpers, 'I also offered to some Republicans to forego this speech in exchange for their vote,' he continued and then got to the core:

"What are we actually doing here," asked Bumpers, "if - as Alexander Hamilton said - it has to be a crime against society or a public breach of trust", and further: "No matter what you are told, this is about a sex scandal . And yes, of course he should have thought about all of this beforehand, just as Adam and Eve should have, just as you and you and you and you should have thought about it beforehand. "

And Bumpers concluded by saying, "If you condemn him, you will do more damage than he ever could, he only has two years left. Voters can expect you to disregard party politics. So do your duty . "

Acquittal for Bill Clinton - weakening the office

February 12, 1999. William Rehnquist, Chairman of the Supreme Court, asks the Senators for a verdict. With 55 to 45 votes the indictment fails with the accusation of perjury, with 50 to 50 votes also the accusation of obstruction of justice. Not a single Democrat agrees with the Republicans. William Rehnquist announces the acquittal.

What remains? Susan Low Bloch and Allen Lichtman agree. Though a president in economically prosperous years, the process remains a dark spot in Bill Clinton's tenure:

"He was only the second president to be indicted, no history book will be left out, and I am sure he hates the idea."

In the rose garden of the White House, Bill Clinton himself put the political end to the process shortly after the vote. The President reiterated his regret that his words and deeds sparked events. He hoped for a period of reconciliation and renewal, said Clinton. A hope that was not to be fulfilled in terms of the reconciliation between Clinton and the Republicans. The historian Allen Lichtman sees two main consequences of the procedure:

"For one thing, there wasn't much that came about in Clinton's remaining tenure, mainly because of the great disagreement between the president and the majority in Congress. On the other hand, the process weakened the position of the president in general and gave George Bush the opportunity to make a correction that was yielding Opinion of many turned to the other extreme. "