December 13, 2019

Understanding the Articles of Impeachment

On December 11, the American Constitution Society presented “Understanding the Articles of Impeachment,"    a webinar featuring Mieke Eoyang, Vice President for the National Security Program at Third Way, Neil Kinkopf, Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law, and Paul Rosenzweig, Professorial Lecturer in Law at George Washington University Law School. These experts discussed the House Judiciary Committee’s proposed articles of impeachment against President Trump, the impeachment process in the Senate, and the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court’s role in the impeachment trial.

Listen to the Briefing Call

The first article of impeachment charges President Trump with abuse of power, based on his solicitation of “the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States [p]residential election.” Eoyang explained why Congress chose to charge the president with abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine. When President Trump conditioned White House meetings and military aid on Ukraine’s willingness to announce an investigation into Burmisa, a company on whose board Vice President Biden’s son, Hunter, served, the president exploited Ukraine’s tenuous geopolitical status as a western nation and risked the political integrity of the 2020 election. This instance, compared to others where the president has shown similar misconduct, according to Eoyang, was particularly egregious and warranted a resolution sanctioning the president’s actions.

President Trump is also charged with obstruction of Congress for his “unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to its ‘sole Power of Impeachment.’” Building on Eoyang’s discussion, Rosenzweig addressed how the president’s misconduct differs from the charge of obstruction of justice brought against President Clinton. President Clinton was found to have obstructed justice because of an initial cover-up of his personal misconduct. But, explained Rosenzweig, he respected the rule of law and complied with Congress’s demands throughout the impeachment process. President Trump has failed to do so and has asserted a form of absolute immunity that does not exist, making the second article substantively and historically significant.

To provide listeners with a better understanding of the impeachment process, Kinkopf explained its nuances and the role of the Chief Justice in the Senate trial. Once the House votes to impeach, but before the Senate begins the trial, the House has another important task ahead of it—appointing House managers to prosecute the case. Kinkopf predicted that the choice the Democrats make in who will serve as House managers for the trial may influence public opinion. Once the articles reach the Senate, a trial is required, and Chief Justice Roberts will serve as the presiding officer. But the Constitution does not prescribe the trial’s form. How it takes shape ultimately depends on two things: the type of trial that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell chooses and the Chief Justice’s deference to the Senate.

ACS and its network are covering the impeachment with information on the process, op-eds from leaders in the progressive legal movement, and legal analysis by experts in the ACS network.

View additional impeachment resources from the ACS network.