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Recently I have been thinking about how the Presidency of Donald J. Trump will end. Will he resign? Die in office? Be impeached? Serve out his term and decline to run for reelection? Run for reelection and lose? Win?

Impeaching Donald J Trump

Looking back in history I see one former Presidency that historians of the future may see as similar to that of Trump: Andrew Johnson from 1865 to 1869. He was selected by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 to be the Vice President for his second term. A Democratic Senator from Tennessee until it seceded from the Union, he was a fierce critic of the Southern secession that sparked the Civil War. Johnson had been appointed by Lincoln to be military governor of Tennessee in the latter stages of the war, and was selected by Lincoln as VP in a gesture to try to bring the rebel Confederate States, on the verge of defeat, back into the Union. Lincoln had favored a very moderate and lenient plan for Reconstruction.

Barely six weeks after President Lincoln was inaugurated for his second term, he was assassinated by a Southerner, actor John Wilkes Booth. It is not hard to understand how bitter Northerners were at this despicable act performed by a Rebel sympathizer, resulting in another Southerner assuming the Presidency. They wanted to remove him from office almost from the start of his Presidency.

Radical Republicans wanted President Johnson to enact hardline Reconstruction policies protecting the newly freed slaves and punishing the former slaveowners, Confederate government officials, and Confederate generals. However, within two months of taking office, Johnson offered general amnesty for most Confederates, did not strictly punish Confederate officials and military officers, and vetoed legislation to extend civil rights and financial support to former slaves.

The 1866 midterms resulted in veto-proof Republican majorities in Congress, and the Radicals passed civil rights legislation and took control of Reconstruction from the President. The old Confederacy was carved into five military districts. Congress's control over Reconstruction was limited by Johnson's command over the military, but he had inherited Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, a Radical Republican who followed Congressional Reconstruction policies.

To ensure that Johnson would not replace Stanton, in 1867 Congress passed, over Johnson's veto, the Tenure of Office Act, which required the Senate's advice and consent before firing any member of his Cabinet. The Act was written specifically with Stanton in mind, and Johnson first asked Stanton to resign, and then suspended him on August 5, 1867. Johnson wanted to appoint General Ulysses S. Grant as Secretary of War, which he did.

Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson

On January 7, 1868, the Senate passed a resolution by a 35-6 vote of non-concurrence with Stanton's dismissal. Grant resigned, and Stanton re-occupied the office of the Secretary of War. Johnson believed that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional, and on February 21, 1868 he appointed General Lorenzo Thomas Secretary of War, but Stanton refused to vacate the office and barricaded himself in his office.

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Three days later, the House adopted eleven articles of impeachment against the President. The articles included charges of dismissing Stanton and appointing General Thomas, conspiring to unlawfully prevent Stanton from continuing in office, unlawfully curtailing faithful execution of the Act, conspiring to take possession of the property of the U.S., and among others, charging Johnson with making three speeches intending to show disrespect for Congress.

A trial started in the Senate, presided over by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, beginning on March 13, 1868. There was no Vice President in office, so if Johnson was removed, the Senate President pro tempore, Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, a Radical Republican, would become President. The Senate then had 54 members, with 36 "guilty" votes required to remove Johnson from office. On three occasions in May, 1868, 35 senators voted "guilty" and 19 voted "not guilty". Ten Republican Senators and all nine Democrat Senators voted 'not guilty".

Charges of bribery to try to influence Senators to change their votes were made back and forth. The Republican Senator who provided the deciding vote to acquit, Edmund G. Ross of Kansas, was mercilessly persecuted for his courageous vote to acquit. Not one of the Republican Senators who voted for acquittal ever again was elected to office.

Thereafter, a group of citizens unsuccessfully petitioned Congress to abolish the Presidency, via an amendment to the Constitution. In 1887, the Tenure of Office Act was repealed by Congress, and in later years the Supreme Court agreed that the President had the power to remove Cabinet officials, and that the Tenure of Office Act was invalid.

For such impeachment to be accepted by the American electorate, especially the "Deplorables" who currently form Trump's rabid base, the evidence must be overwhelming that he is corrupt, unfit for office and probably a traitor.

Johnson became President through the act of one human being against another, as Trump may have become President as a result in large part of the acts of Putin and his Russian thugs to undermine the 2016 American Presidential Election, as many Democrats believe, including me. And Trump may have been complicit in Putin's actions, as President Johnson was in not adequately punishing the Confederates, which the Radical Republicans wanted.

But should Trump be impeached? The Johnson impeachment proceedings showed, as did the later attempt to remove Bill Clinton from office in the late 1990s, that the party attempting such removal may pay a severe price with the voters. So in order for such impeachment to be accepted by the American electorate, especially the "Deplorables" who currently form Trump's rabid base, the evidence must be overwhelming that he is corrupt, unfit for office and probably a traitor.

Thus we must await the release by Mueller of his final indictments (of Donald Jr., Ivanka and Jared Kushner, and the naming of Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator?). In addition, the now Democrat-majority House must investigate every possible violation of the law by Trump and his cronies, and urge the filing of charges, by Mueller (if he is still operating) and the Justice Department attorneys of the Southern District of New York and elsewhere. And there is the possibility that Mueller, before he leaves, may recommend the impeachment of President Trump, supported by devastating evidence.

This all has to be done before the end of 2019, as it could well be regarded as too late if it is done in 2020, an election year. The next ten months should be very interesting.

ted vaill

Ted Vaill