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Professors weigh in during ‘Impeachment 101’ panel

PLATTSBURGH — As the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump moved to the House Judiciary Committee, students and some community members sat down for “Impeachment 101: How it Works and its Impact on American Politics” last Thursday evening, Dec. 5.

The SUNY Plattsburgh chapter of the Pi Sigma Alpha national political science honor society organized the panel discussion, which took place in the Alumni Conference Room and featured four of the college’s political science professors.

The inquiry was set off after a whistleblower complaint brought to light a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and sought to answer the question of whether the president wrongfully withheld hundreds of millions in military aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

House leaders announced two articles of impeachment against the president Tuesday: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Offense against state

The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” was a widely understood, popular British phrase that essentially referred to “an offense against the state,” Raymond Carman said.

Back in the early 1970s, future President Gerald Ford, then House minority leader, said during an investigation into Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas that “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House says it is,” he added.

Carman explained that an impeachment is not a criminal trial, though there are some parallels.

The House investigation is akin to a grand jury proceeding, in which the state can choose to only present evidence in favor of indictment and the defendant does not have rights to counsel, question witnesses or introduce evidence.

The trial portion occurs in the Senate, where such rights are expected as part of due process.

“Unique moment”

Daniel Lake said the proceedings present a unique moment and contrast with previous impeachments that focused solely on domestic matters.

“The current round is centered on a foreign policy scandal, namely that it appears the president deliberately manipulated U.S. foreign policy for personal political gain.”

Lake said it is not out of the ordinary for a government, including the U.S. government, to try to manipulate a friend or foe country’s politics.

“What’s unique about this one is we’ve got a national leader soliciting foreign interference in our domestic politics.”

Other systems

Lucia Manzi, who specializes in comparative politics, presented on how impeachment — a key tool of accountability — works in other presidential systems.

Both South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff were recently removed following impeachment, she said.

She compared impeachment to how leaders are held accountable in parliamentary systems.

For example, a prime minister may call for an election or an official can call for a vote of confidence, allowing the system to address improper conduct.

Stefanik

North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, gained attention during the House Intelligence Committee hearings, particularly when ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes tried to yield his extended period of questioning to her, which violated the proceedings’ rules and prompted Chairman Adam Schiff’s gavel.

Harvey Schantz said there has been a lot of bickering within the Intelligence Committee, which has played out publicly during the open impeachment hearings.

Stefanik also comes from a district where Trump won in 2016, and agrees with the president on certain policies including the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, funding for Fort Drum and Second Amendment rights.

“You have to play the position you’re in,” Schantz said.

Worth it?

The question came up of whether, three years into Trump’s term, it was worth it to go forward with impeachment.

“If you believe the president committed an impeachable act, then Congress has a responsibility to investigate and to impeach,” Carman replied.

“I don’t care if it’s October of 2020.”

Carman said the president would probably lose the 2020 election if it were held today and the electoral college, which creates a structural Republican advantage, did not exist.

“But the election is not today, the impeachment will have been over presumably for at least several months by that point and the electoral college exists … so it probably doesn’t hurt him, assuming he’s still president.”