Judging from recent letters to The Times, the din of national politics has now filtered down to the grass roots of Chaffee County.
At this point, our House of Representatives is pursuing the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. All political bluster aside, the real issue isn’t about politics. To the contrary, it’s about how well our Constitution works in a time of crisis.
According to the checks and balances established by our Constitution, it is the duty of the House of Representatives to pursue an impeachment inquiry when the executive branch appears to have over-reached its delegated authority or committed an illegal act.
The authority to develop articles of impeachment resides with the House of Representatives while the authority to conduct the impeachment trial itself resides with the United States Senate.
As a historical perspective, President Richard M. Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than face an impeachment trial involving multiple charges of obstruction of justice.
A precedent for obstruction of justice was established when Nixon’s infamous White House tapes revealed that Nixon was using information obtained from the files of the FBI, CIA, IRS and other governmental agencies to intimidate potential witnesses to the Watergate coverup scandal.
In 1998, our Republican-controlled House charged President Bill Clinton with lying to Congress about an extramarital affair with a White House intern.
The Senate set another precedent by deciding that an extramarital affair did not rise to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” as specified by the Constitution. As a result of the Senate vote, Clinton remained in office.
As for the power of precedent, we can’t have our cake and eat it too. If our House of Representatives had, for political purposes, conveniently overlooked our current president’s questionable behavior, a new precedent and lower threshold for presidential behavior would have been chiseled into our Constitution.
If the articles of impeachment fail in the Senate, a new and lower precedent will be similarly set by conveniently ignoring a preponderance of evidence that establishes guilt, not innocence. Whether we like it or not, precedence and practice shapes and forms Constitutional law.
To quote Benjamin Franklin when questioned in 1788 about the form of government created by our new Constitution, he said, “We now have a republic, but only if we can keep it.”
Let’s hope Franklin’s wise words aren’t forever lost on the short-sightedness of foolish people.
Gary E. Goms