Senate Impeachment Trials
So far only two U.S. Presidents have been impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives and only those two Presidents, Andrew Johnson (in 1868) and William Jefferson Clinton (in 1999), have been tried by the U.S. Senate. Richard Nixon (in 1973-74) was not impeached. He resigned right after the majority (including six Republicans) on the House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment to the House floor and before the full House had a chance to vote on those articles. This week (of December 2) the House Judiciary Committee takes up the crafting of articles of impeachment against Donald J. Trump, responding to the report from the House Intelligence committee (chaired by Adam Schiff).
Leaving aside Nixon, the evidence and the crimes that led to his resignation, we would do well to review the two U.S. Presidential impeachments that went to a trial in the Senate.
The Senate trial of Bill Clinton in 1999 was held on two articles of impeachment, Perjury and Obstruction of Justice, both stemming from sexual acts, not direct matters of state. (This was back in the time most Republicans still pretended to care about sexual indiscretions.) The Senate acquitted Clinton of both articles. The overall vote on each count fell well short of the 2/3 supermajority (i.e. 67 votes) necessary to convict. In fact, neither article reached even a simple majority of 51, even in a Republican majority Senate. "The perjury charge was defeated with 55 "not guilty" votes and 45 "guilty" votes. On the obstruction-of-justice article, the chamber was evenly split, 50-50." For the roll call vote click here. Ten Republican Senators voted "not guilty" on the article of Perjury, five voted "not guilty" on the article of Obstruction of Justice.]
The Senate trial of Andrew Johnson was held in 1868, a tumultuous time in our history, three years after the close of the Civil War. The nation was focused on deciding the terms under which the southern states might be re-admitted to the union, as well as social and political reorganization following the abolition of slavery. Andrew Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, the only Confederate state readmitted to the Union at this time, was not an elected President. He was elevated to the office from the vice presidency after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. (See P.S. below) In the manner of Democrats of the time, Johnson wanted the former Confederate States readmitted with minimal federal restrictions around the treatment of former slaves. He was extremely unpopular in the North--and with the representatives of those northern states that dominated the Congress. Such support as he had was derived from the border states still in the Union or Tennessee, his home state and the only Confederate state readmitted at the time of his presidency. At the time of Johnson's impeachment trial in the Senate the other ten of the former Confederate States remained outside the Union with none of their twenty Senators seated in the U.S. Senate.
The articles of impeachment under which Andrew Johnson was tried in the Senate revolved around presidential power to appoint members of his cabinet. The dispute in 1868 was over Johnson's defiance of a law the Senate had passed seeking to block him from dismissing any member his cabinet. In particular the law was meant to protect the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, a Radical Republican of the Lincoln administration who did not share Johnson's views on re-admittance of Confederate states.
An aside: It is ironic (and confusing for the reader) that the Republican Party in 1868 was the party of the north, abolitionist and generally disposed toward integrating African Americans into society, whereas the current Republican Party coddles its white supremacist and Christian Identity voters to remain in power.
In spite of a supermajority of Republican Senators (45 Republicans to 9 Democrats served in the Senate in 1868) the Senate failed to convict Johnson, falling one vote short of the necessary 36 votes (2/3 supermajority). Ten of the Republican (northern, ordinarily abolitionist) Senators voted against convicting President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Not one of them ever served in public office again. Northern voters were in no mood to forgive Senators who were seen as coddling the South. The wikipedia article on the Johnson impeachment and trial is instructive.
The likely trial of Donald J. Trump in the U.S. Senate will turn on a crime that threatens the foundation of our democracy. Donald Trump attempted to extort a personal electoral favor by withholding essential funds authorized by Congress. The favor was the mere announcement of an investigation into a likely electoral opponent, an announcement meant to sow doubt to influence the 2020 election. That allegation against Donald Trump is at the same level of national importance as the crimes of which Nixon was accused and over which Nixon resigned. Both the Clinton and Johnson trials were both focused on narrower issues, Senate prerogative and sexual misconduct. It is non-sensical to argue we should not impeach Donald Trump, but instead rely on electoral judgement in November of 2020 when the very nature of his crime was to sway the election.
Keep to the high ground, Jerry
P.S. What? Did you notice that Abraham Lincoln, often thought of as the founder of what was then called the Republican Party, ran in 1864 with Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as his vice president? A Republican and a Democrat on the same ticket?! They ran on the National Union Party ticket, a temporary name for the Republicans. They won by an overwhelming majority (55% of the popular vote) in 1864 in a nation (composed only of northern states) that was exhausted by the ongoing Civil War. The name, National Union Party, was calculated to attract votes from the many who would under no circumstances otherwise vote Republican. Politics was complicated then, too, something we ought not forget.