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History of the ‘impeachment’ in the United States

Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump have been in the crosshairs of Congress

Donald Trump will be the first president in the history of the United States to face two political trials or ‘impeachment’ in the Senate. Before him, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton also faced investigations that could jeopardize their continuity in the White House, without success in any case so far.

The list was opened with Johnson, singled out for firing his then Secretary of War, Edward Stanton, in 1867. The Office Ownership Law stipulated that the president could not remove officials at this level from their posts without first obtaining authorization from the Senate.

Johnson initially backed off after congressional intervention, but in 1868 he finished pushing Stanton aside. Three days after this dismissal, the House of Representatives voted in favor of the opening of a political trial against him, for violating the aforementioned law and for disrespecting Congress.

The Senate analyzed the case for eleven weeks and ended up acquitting the president, although Johnson remains to this day the president who has come closest to being fired. Thirty-five senators found him guilty, only one of the two-thirds needed then to oust the president from the White House.

It would take a century for Congress to reconsider this maneuver. In 1972, the arrest of five people who had raided the Watergate Hotel, where the Democratic National Committee met, sparked a scandal that culminated two years later with the departure of Richard Nixon.

Doubts about the president’s involvement in this interference and the president’s reluctance to provide information led in July 1974 the Justice Committee of the House of Representatives to conclude that Nixon had obstructed justice, had taken advantage of his position of power and had been in contempt of Congress.

Before the plenary session of the Lower House came to vote, Nixon took the initiative and resigned, on August 8, 1974, which saved him from the second step of this complex process, the one that takes place in the Senate and which is properly the trial against the tenant of the White House.

The next episode of the ‘impeachment’ came in the nineties, at the hands of Bill Clinton, who was involved in several scandals since the beginning of 1994. One of them had as its protagonist Paula Jones, who denounced the president for sexual harassment.

Clinton then claimed that she was immune, but in 1997 the Supreme Court rejected the argument and, in January of the following year, the president declared under oath that he had never had relations with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House fellow. However, it was proven to be false.

In August 1998, he publicly admitted his “affair” with Lewinsky and in October, shortly after the release of some tapes, the House of Representatives opened the “impeachment” process. In December, the lower house formally accused Clinton of committing perjury and obstruction of justice.

Clinton was tried and acquitted by the Senate in February 1999. In the case of perjury, only 45 senators found him guilty, but the figure increased to 50 for the count of obstruction of injustice, insufficient in any case to remove the president.

The trial against Trump that starts this Tuesday in the Senate is the second against the New York magnate, although this time what is at stake is not to continue in the White House – he left office on January 20 – but a hypothetical electoral candidacy future.

Trump has already been acquitted in 2020 of a first reprobation process, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The last straw for the Democrats’ patience had been a telephone conversation with the President of Ukraine, Volodimir Zelenski, in which he openly advocated investigating Joe Biden and his son Hunter for alleged corrupt practices that were never proven. .

The plenary session of the Chamber of Representatives voted on December 18 to disapprove the president, but it was not until mid-January that the articles were sent to the Senate. A week later the sessions began in the Upper House, where the forecasts were fulfilled and Trump asserted the Republican majority to be acquitted on February 5.

In the count of obstruction of Congress, the 53 Republican legislators declared Trump innocent, but in the abuse of power there was an unprecedented event since Senator Mitt Romney distanced himself from the line of his party to consider the president guilty. His vote, however, did not end up tipping the balance.

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