Impeachment’s place in American history

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It was 1868 and while the Civil War was over but the political war was not.

Richard Nixon boards a helicopter after resigning the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974. His resignation came after approval of an impeachment article against him by the House Judiciary Committee for withholding evidence from Congress. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)

For the first time in U.S. history, a president was impeached.

But, the Senate did not convict Andrew Johnson and he remained in office.

In 1974, President Richard Nixon was headed to a conviction in the Senate and removal from office – led by his own Republican party.

To avoid that – he became the first U.S. president to resign.

In the late 1990s, President Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath and obstruction of justice.

But, just like Johnson, he was acquitted by the Senate and completed his term.

A simple majority is needed for the House to impeach but, a two-thirds majority is needed in the Senate.  

The founding fathers wanted to make sure that it would be difficult to remove a president.

“It would make it more appetizing for majority parties in Congress to pull the impeachment trigger on all manner of things including things which may seem rather political than legal. So they created that higher bar in the Senate to keep that from happening” said Andrew Taylor, police science professor at North Carolina State University.

On Wednesday, a transcript was released of a phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

A whistleblower complaint concerning that phone call led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call for an impeachment inquiry into Trump.  

In this Dec. 19, 1998, file photo, President Bill Clinton looks on as Vice President Gore addresses members of congress outside the Oval Office after the House of Representatives voted to impeach the president. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

The question is whether Trump asked a foreign government to investigate a political opponent.

Is the plan to make a judicious assessment based on evidence and the constitution? Is it only about politics?

Taylor says it’s not clear what the Democrat’s endgame is.

“Maybe just having an impeachment inquiry that doesn’t come to a conclusive end by the time we get to the 2020 election but, just boils over enough that doubts about the president are cast in the public’s mind,” Taylor said.

But, it could do the opposite – which is what happened during Clinton’s impeachment, Taylor said

“The result was a disaster for the Republicans. For the first time since 1934, the opposition party to the president lost seats in a congressional mid-term. Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned and yet they still went ahead with the impeachment,” Taylor said.

Then the impeached president left after two full terms in office with the highest approval rating of a president at the end of his term since World War II.

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