‘It’s quite hard to impeach a president’

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Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton were both impeached but not convicted; Ricard Nixon faced sure impeachment but chose to resign.

Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton were both impeached but not convicted; Richard Nixon faced sure impeachment but chose to resign.

By Cristina DC Pastor

A forum on the U.S. Government System was held on June 9 at the Philippine Consulate, with members of the Filipino American community taking an unusual interest on the topic of impeachment.

Law Professor Rose Cuison Villazor of the University of California laid out the legal requirements for removing a president: one, he must be impeached by the House of Representatives for committing any of the following offenses: treason, bribery and other high crimes or misdemeanors; and two, he must be convicted by the Senate. “Remember there are two steps: impeachment and conviction,” she stressed.

She said impeachment proceedings have been brought against three American presidents, but only one, Richard Nixon, had stepped down, not because he was convicted but because he resigned.

The first president to be impeached in U.S. history was Andrew Jackson. Eleven Articles of Impeachment were hurled at him in the House in 1868 for firing the Secretary of War and violating the Tenure of Office Act passed the year before. He was acquitted by the Senate.

Nixon faced impeachment for obstruction of justice. He denied knowing about the wiretapping of the Democratic Party headquarters until evidence emerged that he ordered a cover-up of the burglary. He resigned in 1974 over what is now known as the Watergate Scandal. He could have gone to jail but he was given a pardon by Gerald Ford.

Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 and acquitted in 1999, for lying about his extramarital affairs, which constituted obstruction of justice, said Villazor.

“It’s quite hard to impeach a president,” she said.

Panel speakers Rose Cuison Villazor  and Andrew Villacastin (3rd and 4th from right) with Consul General Theresa Dizon-De Vega and officers of the Philippine Consulate and FALA New York after the program.  Photo by Grace Labaguis

Panel speakers Rose Cuison Villazor and Andrew Villacastin (3rd and 4th from right) with Consul General Theresa Dizon-De Vega and officers of the Philippine Consulate and FALA New York after the program. Photo by Grace Labaguis

Villazor did not go into a deep discussion of the possible impeachment of Donald Trump, saying only it is up to Special Counsel Robert Mueller to determine if a crime had been committed. Trump is reported by the Washington Post to be under investigation for possible obstruction of justice after he fired the FBI chief who was looking into his administration’s illicit contacts with Russia.

“Legally speaking, the issue is whether he committed some kind of crime that would rise to the level of an impeachment offense. Bob Mueller could help figure that out,” she said.

Villazor was asked by a member of the audience if a president can be criminally prosecuted. She said that possibility is subject to further discussions by legal scholars because there has not been any precedent. Nixon was the closest. He was certain to be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate, but he chose to resign to avoid becoming the first American president to be impeached and convicted by Congress.

“The impeachment process has only happened, I’d say, only 2.5 times,” she said.

The forum was the first in a series of events organized by Filipino American Lawyers Association or FALA-NY which seeks to provide information and education to the FilAm community. Joining Villazor in the panel was lawyer Andrew Villacastin of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP. He named some of the prominent FilAms who hold top positions in the judiciary, among them United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York Lorna Schofield and Chief Justice of California Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

Copyright © 2017 The FilAm



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