Vermont law professor adds context to impeachment

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A Vermont law professor explains the impeachment process and what the U.S. Constitution says about the proceedings.

Assistant law professor at Vermont Law School Jared Carter says a president can be impeached for committing bribery or treason, which the U.S. Constitution states as a “high crime or misdemeanor.” But losing the American people’s trust is also grounds for impeachment.

“Alexander Hamilton, in one of the Federalist Papers, talked about the fact that presidents can be impeached for a violation of public trust. So the House of Representatives is looking at that,” Carter told WCAX News.

Carter says impeachment is a complex process. First, the House of Representatives collects evidence and brings in witnesses to testify. Then, they vote on the Articles of Impeachment. Ultimately, the Senate has the final say, with a two-thirds majority vote needed.

"So you’re talking about more than 60 senators needing to vote to remove and we’ve never removed a president from office in this process in the history of the United States,” Carter said.

The Constitution calls on the Supreme Court Chief Justice to preside over the trial. Carter says that provision was likely written in an effort to ensure impartiality of the proceedings.

“I think it helps with maintain that neutrality that I think is so important when we’re talking about removing a president from office. I think the goal of the founders was to depoliticize as much as possible the process,” Carter said. “But it’s a political process, let’s be honest. There’s no way around that. When you have elected representatives voting to remove a sitting president, that’s politics.”

Carter predicts the Democratic-controlled House will vote on the Articles of Impeachment in the next few months. But he’s not convinced the GOP-controlled Senate will vote to remove a Republican president from office.

“Unless some major new shoe drops, at least based on what the Republicans in the Senate are saying now, it’s very unlikely the president’s going to be removed before the election,” he said.

WCAX News asked Vermonters if they think President Trump should be impeached. We heard from both sides.

“It’s been a long time coming and it’s definitely worth looking into,” said Independent Sarah Carter. “The few times that a president has been impeached in history-- President Johnson, President Clinton-- they have been for lesser things.”

Republican Paul Prim doesn’t think the president is guilty of any high crimes.

“I think he shouldn’t be impeached. I hope it goes his way. I think it will,” Prim said. “Nobody’s perfect. President Trump has done a lot for us. People don’t realize the good he’s done. They always put the bad in front.”

A president can be impeached and remain in office. President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 after being charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. He was acquitted on both counts in February 1999 as neither count got the two-thirds Senate majority vote necessary for conviction and removal from office.