The president of the House of Representatives, Republican Kevin McCarthy, ordered this Tuesday to open a formal investigation into Joe Biden aimed at subjecting the president of the United States to impeachment. The House of Representatives has only made accusations (the so-called articles of impeachment) against three US presidents in history. All three were acquitted by the Senate. Republicans, at least those on the radical wing, want Biden to be fourth. That is yet to be seen. Other investigations like the one now open ended without charges being filed.
Republicans want to impeach Biden from the first day of his term. The day after taking office, January 21, 2021, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene presented a proposal in this regard that went nowhere in a House of Representatives with a Democratic majority. After the renewal of Congress last January and the tortuous election of McCarthy as speaker of the lower house, the Republicans returned to the fray. Congresswoman Lauren Boebert presented an initiative to politically prosecute him for his immigration policy, but it caused an internal dispute and the Republicans themselves abandoned the idea. Now, the investigation ordered by McCarthy is linked to the foreign businesses of his son, Hunter Biden, which would reflect in his opinion an alleged “culture of corruption” and “abuse of power.” Hunter Biden was an advisor to Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company whose owner was involved in corruption cases.
What is an impeachment?
The United States Constitution regulates in its articles 1 and 2 the possibility of subjecting public officials to a political process of dismissal or impeachment. In the case of federal public offices, the accusation corresponds to the House of Representatives and the trial takes place in the Senate. Article 2 states in its fourth section that “the president, vice president and all civil officials of the United States will be removed from office if impeached and convicted of treason, bribery or other serious crimes and Slight faults”. In addition to the federal ones, there are state political trials, such as the one taking place in Texas against its attorney general, Ken Paxton.
What is an impeachment investigation?
The president of the House of Representatives has ordered the opening of an impeachment investigation against Biden, alleging a “culture of corruption” around his family, basically due to his son, Hunter Biden’s, business dealings abroad. He has ordered the presidents of three commissions to launch this formal investigation, which will bring with it requirements and subpoenas. It is an investigation prior to impeachment, to try to determine if there is material to move forward with the process. A formal investigation of this type is not essential to formulate the accusation, but it is usual.
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Can the investigation be opened without a vote?
Kevin McCarthy has that power as president of the House of Representatives, but until very recently he assured that he would not do so without the vote of the full House of Representatives. When her predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, ordered the investigation into Donald Trump’s first impeachment to be launched in September 2019, McCarthy wrote a letter to the then speaker saying that a plenary vote should be held authorizing an impeachment investigation. Otherwise, “a process completely devoid of any merit or legitimacy would be created.” He was still maintaining the same thing less than two weeks ago: “If we go ahead with an impeachment investigation, it would occur through a vote in the plenary session of the House of People and not through a statement from a person.”
What is Biden accused of?
McCarthy announced this Tuesday the opening of the investigation, mentioning a series of facts that are far from being proven or that he presented only partially. He maintained that “Biden lied to the American people about his own knowledge of his family’s business abroad.” In the 2020 campaign he claimed that his son had not done business in China, which turned out not to be true, but Republicans have failed to prove that Biden was aware of Hunter’s business dealings or that as president he lied about it. . McCarthy also said that Biden’s interactions with his son’s associates and clients “have resulted in cars and millions of dollars,” but it has not been proven that they went beyond greetings and a dinner, nor that the then vice president was involved in any business.
The speaker spoke of how members of the Biden family (his son, Hunter, and the president’s brother, Jimmy Biden) and their associates received $20 million through “shell companies” and that 150 banking operations were classified as suspicious. In reality, they were ordinary limited companies, that money did not belong only to the Bidens and there is no proof that they were illegal businesses, even if they were somewhat shady. The banks preliminarily indicate as suspicious high-value cash operations and transfers from abroad whose justification is not clear. So far, however, none have led to a criminal investigation.
McCarthy also spoke of an alleged bribe to the Bidens reported to the FBI, but it was an unverified allegation and denied by other testimonies. And there is also no evidence that, as the Republican maintains, the Biden Government has given favorable treatment to his family. The prosecutor investigating Hunter Biden was appointed by Trump in his day and the Justice Department has elevated him to the rank of special prosecutor, reinforcing his independence. In fact, he plans to ask a grand jury this month to indict the president’s son for the illegal purchase of a gun.
Which are the next steps?
The president of the Oversight Commission, in coordination with the presidents of the Judicial Commission and the Ways and Means Commission, the three Republicans, are in charge of launching the formal investigation. They can issue summonses, requests and other types of actions. Some congressmen have indicated that they will carry out an in-depth investigation, since they have time “until the 2024 elections.” The Republicans want to politically torture Biden and believe that an investigation of this type can somewhat compensate for the accusations and trials that Donald Trump has ahead of him until the presidential elections on November 5 of next year, in which the entire House of Representatives is also renewed. and a third of the Senate. After the investigation, the usual thing is for a commission to finalize the articles of impeachment, the criminal equivalent of the charges or accusations, and for them to be submitted to the plenary session of the Lower House. If they are formulated and approved by the plenary session, the Senate would be the one to carry out the impeachment trial.
Is impeachment assured?
No. There are precedents for opening formal investigations after which no charges were filed. In 1860, President James Buchanan was investigated for alleged bribery and other allegations, but after a year of work the special commission in charge of the case concluded that there was no incriminating material. In 1867, the Judicial Commission ended up recommending the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, but the plenary voted against it (although the same president would be impeached the following year in another case). There is a third example from 1974, in which the impeachment was not reached because the then president, Richard Nixon, went ahead and presented his resignation. The Judiciary Committee had approved three articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress for its role in the Watergate scandal, but the plenary session did not vote.
What is the role of the House of Representatives and the Senate?
Under Article 1 of the Constitution, only the House of Representatives “shall have the power to initiate impeachment proceedings.” If the commission raises the articles of impeachment to the plenary session, a simple majority will suffice to approve them. In that case, Biden would join the list that includes Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. The impeachment trial would then open in the Senate. Chief Justice John Roberts would preside. Congressmen appointed by the House of Representatives would act as prosecutors, while senators would serve as jurors. According to the Constitution, “no one may be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the senators present.” That is, 67 votes would be needed if all 100 senators attend. Democrats have a majority of 51 to 49 in the Upper House.
What sentence can be imposed?
The Constitution states in the third section of article 1 that “the sentence in cases of impeachment may not exceed removal from office and disqualification from obtaining and holding any position of honor, trust or remuneration, in the Government of the USA; but the convicted official shall nevertheless be subject to being charged, tried, sentenced and punished according to the law.” Political condemnation does not exempt from criminal trial. In the hypothetical case that a president is removed, he is replaced by the vice president.
Which presidents have been impeached?
Political prosecution is an exceptional procedure. Only three presidents throughout history (Andrew Johnson, in 1868; Bill Clinton, in 1998, and Donald Trump, this one twice, in 2019 and 2021) have been subjected to impeachment by the Senate at the request of the House of Representatives. Representatives and all have been acquitted.
The trial of Andrew Johnson originated in a struggle between Democrats and Republicans at a time of growing tension after the end of the American Civil War. Congress, controlled by a radical wing of the Republican Party, approved a law that prevented the Democratic president from dismissing, without the support of the Senate, public officials appointed by the Upper House. Ignoring that law, Johnson dismissed his Secretary of War, an ally of the Republicans, which led to the impeachment process. In two votes in May 1868, the Senate fell just one vote short of those needed to remove the president.
The Clinton case
The impeachment process accused Bill Clinton of committing perjury and obstruction of justice for concealing his 1997 sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The key was whether Clinton lied under oath when he denied having had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky (with whom he had oral sex) and whether he hindered her investigations by encouraging her to deny the relationship. For the perjury accusation, 45 senators considered him guilty and 55, not guilty. Due to obstruction, there was a 50-50 tie. He was acquitted.
The Trump cases
Trump’s first impeachment trial is related to the current one. It was born from Donald Trump’s attempts to seek Ukraine’s help to defame Joe Biden, then the favorite for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, over his son’s business dealings in the country. The House of Representatives accused him in December 2019 of abuse of power for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rival and of obstruction of Congress for ordering officials to refuse to testify. He was acquitted of both charges by 48-52 and 47-53 votes, with a majority for those who considered him not guilty.
Trump’s second impeachment had the peculiarity of trying a president after he had left office. He was charged with incitement of insurrection for his role in the January 6, 2021 storming of the Capitol. 57 senators (including seven from his own party, something unprecedented) of the 100 considered him guilty, but they fell short of the reinforced two-thirds majority that would have meant his political disqualification.
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