UE Professor Dr. Robert Dion explains impeachment process

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) – According to a transcript released by the White House, President Trump asked Ukraine’s President to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Some call the transcript a smoking gun.

In the midst of all of this, President Trump sat down today with his Ukrainian counterpart for the first time.

President Trump is adamant insisting he did nothing wrong. And as news of the inquiry unfolds, we realize many are unfamiliar with the impeachment process.

UE Political Science Professor Dr. Robert Dion sits down with Eyewitness News’ Shelley Kirk to talk about the impeachment process.

FULL TRANSCRIPTION:

Shelley Kirk: Welcome back to First at 4. The biggest story of the day is the impeachment inquiry against President Trump. According to a transcript released by the White House, President Trump asked Ukraine’s President to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Some call the transcript a smoking gun. In the midst of all of this, President Trump sat down today with his Ukrainian counterpart for the first time. President Trump is adamant insisting he did nothing wrong. And as news of the inquiry unfolds, we realize many are unfamiliar with the impeachment process. So, to help us all out, we are joined now by University of Evansville Political Science professor, Dr. Robert Dion. Thank you for being here with us today. And of course, the impeachment process begins with an inquiry. Explain that if you would please and the next steps to follow.

Dr. Robert Dion: Well, inquiry is an invented term. They’re going to investigate whether they want to bring charges against him and the only way to bring charges against him is to have a vote of the whole House. But prior to that the committees can look into that – the word they came up with that is inquiries. It’s a gentle way of saying it’s a little less than a full impeachment vote.

Shelley Kirk: Even though they’re looking into it, does that mean it will eventually go to the full House for a vote? Or it might not?

Dr. Robert Dion: It still may not, but it sure seems that yesterday the dam broke because the immovable object was the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi did not have an appetite to bring this forward. She learned the lesson in 1998 when Bill Clinton was not removed, and it helped the Democrats but hurt the Republicans. The Republicans had brought up the impeachment and it blew up in their face. So, she doesn’t want to go down that road, but even yesterday she indicated that in this instance because of these facts that it may well be worth it to engage in the inquiry and maybe have the vote in the House.

Shelley Kirk: Now, the constitution spells out high crimes and misdemeanors as a whole context for the impeachment process. Explain what that means – high crimes and misdemeanors

Dr. Robert Dion: Well, it’s pretty vague. It says treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors and the best answer on this was from Rep. Jerry Ford, Michigan, who said 39 years ago, 49 years ago, that high crimes and misdemeanors is anything the majority of the House says it is. Because it’s as vague as can be. It could be they don’t like the color of his tie and they can bring in impeachment, or if he was literally caught committing a crime, they could choose not to impeach. At the end of the day it’s whatever the majority of the House says.

Shelley Kirk: Well, I’ve heard it said that this is not a legal process but rather a political one. Is it?

Dr. Robert Dion: In many ways it’s both. Obviously, it’s a constitutional process, it’s a legal process from removing someone from office, but at the end of the day it’s a political decision. You have to get a majority in the House, or you can’t impeach somebody. The magic number is 218. The majority of the House is Democratic control, and there were a lot of Democrats who were uneasy going too far down this road. But as I say, as of yesterday, a lot of that seemed to be shifting and there may well be a couple of Republicans, not too many to be honest with you, but enough to get to 218 if what’s been alleged turns out to be accurate.

Shelley Kirk: Well, let’s take it to the next step then, all the action right now is in the House. Eventually, the Senate will have to take this up, what happens in the Senate?

Dr. Robert Dion: It’s a misnomer out there that impeachment means removal. A lot of us use that word interchangeably. But impeachment is merely charging, and it takes a simple majority in the House to charge someone. But the trial takes place in the Senate. And that’s a different matter altogether. The presiding officer instead of being the President Pro-tem, is the Chief Justice and Chief Justice actually designed – he was a part time fashion designer – a special robe to be worn during impeachment trials and one wonders if John Roberts will wear that. But he’ll have to preside if Mitch McConnell chooses to go forward with it. It’s an open question whether the Senate Majority Leader has any discretion as to that. It seems if the House tees it up, the Senate will have to do something. But the kicker is in the Senate where the trial takes place, you need to have a 2/3rds super majority, which by definition would mean there has to be an overwhelming bipartisan decision. And one has to wonder, given it’s under Republican control right now, whether that’s really within the realm of possibility.

Shelley Kirk: So, that’s questionable that, that could even happen. That’s probably why Speaker Pelosi and others are hesitant to even do this in the house.

Dr. Robert Dion: You know, there’s no doubt Bill Clinton emerged damaged – his reputation has been ruined in a lot of ways even though he survived the impeachment – the trial in the Senate. So, Donald Trump is likely to survive, although I don’t know that, we don’t know where this is going, but I’m sure he would prefer not to be one of the few presidents who have had to go down this road. It’s a very small number.

Shelley Kirk: Let me ask you then, if the Senate takes it up, is it called impeach at that point?

Dr. Robert Dion: They would find him guilty.

Shelley Kirk: If they find him guilty, is he automatically removed? Can they say he’s guilty, but keep him in office?

Dr. Robert Dion: They have not discretion under that as far as – it’s never happened, no president has been found guilty or removed from office through this process, but the constitution is pretty clear in Article 2 Section 4 that these are the standards. And then in Article 1 Section 2 talks about the possibility of removal and that’s it. That’s the only thing that they could come up with – removal or not. And if Donald Trump is removed then he would be the first one in history to be removed through this process.

Shelley Kirk: Two others have been impeached – one resigned.

Dr. Robert Dion: Even if you broader that out a little bit, any federal official is subject to impeachment. Not members of the Congress, but federal judges and in well over 200 years, we’ve only done this19 times. It’s something that is very rare, damaging, disruptive, not entered into lightly. And the Founders set it up so that it’s not easy to remove somebody. You have to bring the goods, make a strong case and convince a bipartisan super majority.

Shelley Kirk: Dr. Dion thanks for clearing some things up for us. And I’m sure it’s going to be a lot to follow in these next months. Thank you so much for joining us today.

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(This story was originally published on September 25, 2019)

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