The founding fathers did not see Donald Trump coming. Nor Richard Nixon and the Watergate case, or Bill Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal. But they had savored a good portion of British King George III to be clear that the president of young America was going to accumulate too much power to be untouchable and that, therefore, the Constitution had to be endowed with an instrument with which to dismiss him under certain circumstances. This is how Article II, section 4, of the Magna Carta came to light, according to which “the president, vice president and all civil servants of the United States will be removed from office when they are charged and convicted of treason, bribery, and other crimes and serious misconduct".
The final bullet is due, according to historians, to George Mason, author of the Virginia Bill of Rights, who feared that sticking the assumptions to treason or bribery left any president an excessive margin. "Should any man be above justice?" He stated in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and convinced the authors. The rest, what is understood as a crime worthy of impeachment, is what 230 years later continues to be debated in the United States.RELATED
The US Congress has launched, for the fourth time in history, this exceptional process, by transcending that Donald Trump maneuvered this year to get Ukraine to announce investigations that would harm the Democrats. Specifically, he asked Kiev to inquire around Burisma, the gas company where Joe Biden's son, Hunter, worked while his father was vice president. He also requested that he investigate a conspiracy theory that Ukraine and not Russia were the country that interfered in the 2016 US elections and not to favor Trump, but Hillary Clinton, against what the intelligence and intelligence services have concluded. American justice
Trump openly requested these actions from his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodimir Zelenski, in a phone call on July 25 (which the president as defends legitimate interest against corruption). But a key to knowing if the president committed bribery, extortion or other abuse that justifies his removal is whether the promise of a meeting with Trump that Zelensky wanted or the delivery of military aid was used as a pressure mechanism.
For a week and a half, a dozen witnesses have paraded through the Capitol describing, as a whole, a parallel diplomacy that sought to influence Kiev and in which Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, played a fundamental role. The most explosive testimony came Wednesday from the hand of the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, who certified the pressures and attributed them to the president's order.
"Starting a diplomacy channel with your personal lawyer is a terrible idea and a misjudgment, but that is not the same as saying that the president has committed such a serious crime that justifies the impeachment," says Republican Robert Ray , an independent prosecutor in the Whitewater case, a real estate scandal that splashed Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s, but from which they were exonerated by Ray.
Democrats have already signaled that they will prosecute the crime of "bribery" that appears explicitly in the Constitution, a way to circumvent the debate on what covers the tagline "and other serious crimes" that comes in the fundamental law. After the first public statements in the impeachment process in Congress, the president of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, indicated that the testimonies corroborate “the bribe test”, and that “the president abused his power and violated his oath". The voltage has not dropped since then.
"We were following the president's orders," were the words of Ambassador Sondland on Wednesday and fell like a bomb in Washington. Quickly proliferated references to the testimony of John Dean, the White House lawyer during the Watergate, which precipitated the resignation of Nixon, but Republicans cling to several differences to defend Trump. While Dean described multiple meetings to discuss the cover-up of the case with Nixon, Sondland had to admit that the conditioning of military aid to Ukraine was never explained, but he deduced it from the development of events.
The pressure to get Trump to meet with Zelensky, the other currency that is judged, was manifested by the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. And on September 9, in a phone call, the president stressed to Sondland that he didn't want anything from Ukraine in exchange for the investigation: "I don't want quid pro quo."
But the calendar is important. By that date, the White House had already been notified of the complaint filed by an anonymous whistleblower on this matter, which would end up being the trigger for the impeachment, and Trump had reason to speak like this, when previous episodes had pointed in the opposite direction. . "One, if you want, can think that the president is not telling the truth, but that test is exculpatory," emphasizes Robert Ray.
Law professor Kim Wehle, an expert in Constitutional and who also collaborated in the Whitewater investigation, emphasizes that this “is not a criminal investigation” and, therefore, “there is no need for direct evidence from the president to justify the implementation of the process with a dozen witnesses. " "The evidence has shown that President Trump and Giuliani used the power of office, with the ability to send military aid in exchange for the announcement of investigations against their political rival, so it is an abuse that should be judged."
For Wehle, the Democrats are likely to defend in the House of Representatives the filing of bribery charges, of obstruction of justice, as happened in his day with Nixon and Clinton, for lying or trying to torpedo the investigation, “and there could be something even more generic about abuse of power for personal gain. ” In Ray's view, however, not even the bribery charge is justified, since this must entail a counterpart “of sufficient value” and a meeting between the presidents, “it is not an official act, as defined by the Supreme Court, so it’s not an official decision that involves something of value. ”
The idea of extortion, a charge that the Democrats are also considering, seems more evident if what is at stake are military aid of about 400 million dollars for a country facing a war with the pro-Russian separatists in the east of its territory. In this case, the Republicans will argue that the aid ended up being delivered without announcements of any investigation against the Democrats – on September 11, again, with the anonymous complaint already planned on Washington – and that the object of extortion, the Ukrainian president, He has denied the pressures. It is also not clear if one can speak of treason.
The House of Representatives, of democratic majority, will foreseeably approve charges in the plenary, and in the Senate, where the trial itself is held and the verdict is voted, today its absolution seems easy, thanks to the Republican majority, except new revelations that break the deck.
When they designed the impeachment, the founding fathers did not have to foresee that the impeachment process would lead to a political discussion of these characteristics, since the Senate was not directly chosen by the voters until 1913. Until then, they were the legislative assemblies of the states that named them. Alexander Hamilton – so revived now by the famous musical – did express concern that he would become a partisan tool, in defense or against the president under trial.
Andrew Johnson, the first president who submitted himself to that vote, in 1868, was acquitted. Bill Clinton, the second, too. Nixon resigned before. Donald Trump is the first who, after the parliamentary trial and the sewers that he reveals, is fighting for re-election. Before Watergate, more than half of Americans responded in surveys that hoped that presidents were doing "the right thing", but the percentages have never recovered. Voters expect less, which does not make clear which side the balance tilts. The danger of discrediting was seen by the founding fathers.