Perspective: Impeachment Dilemma (Vol. 40, Issue 5)
So much has been written about the consequences of what transpired on a certain evening in June, 1972 that it would be fruitless to essay yet another discussion of how corruption has or has not always been rife in U.S. government. One need only consult newspapers and periodicals for the most recent details and most controversial commentary on the ostensibly unending saga known as Watergate. What has been wracking the minds of most Americans deals not so much with the almost dealy evidences of fresh scandal as with the broader and more inevitable questions of resignation and impeachment of Richard Milhous Nixon.
Since I deem the former option highly unlikely, the polemics center around the latter alternative. Impeachment, for those who are unclear of precisely what the process entails, is actually no more than a formal charge brought by a majority of the House of Representatives against a President or any civil officer of the United States, and upon which he or she must stand trial by the Senate. Even if impeached, the official in question is presumed innocent and the burden of proof rests upon the accusers. Conviction may be obtained only by a two-thirds vote of Senators voting upon the issue, and only after a fair trial governed by well-established rules of procedure.
Regardless of how capriciously it is being discussed today, impeachment connotes a very grave state of affairs. To those Jews (and others) who identify with Am Yisroel, however, another element enters into the equation. What would be the effect, one wonders, of lengthy impeachment proceedings resulting in the diminution of American prestige abroad and in the possible eviction of Mr, Nixon?
Those among us who view the entire Watergate affair as contrived and exaggerated by a hostile news media or who would rather accentuate the positive accomplishments of the Nixon Presidency obviously have no trouble in inveighing against those clamoring for impeachment, But what of those advocating, or undecided about, the recourse of impeachment? Would Mr. Nixon's removal from office augur a change in government which might be detrimental to Israel’s security? Or would his remaining in office merely exacerbate cynicism and distrust of American politics (a massive “turn the other cheek” syndrome) to an intolerable degree?
These are difficult questions which must be confronted if one is to seriously assay the pros and cons of impeachment and also consider claims that support of such action means “selling out” Israel. A very credible case can be formulated for impeachment. The number of allegations leveled against Mr. Nixon, as all but hermits are aware, reads like an oversized grocery list.
Among the more specific counts include charges that in 1970 he approved a domestic security plan that authorized violations of the law; later established in the White House a secret police force (the “plumbers”); made unlawful use of the F.B.I. and C.I.A.;- illegally wiretapped his own aides and four newspapermen; attempted to bribe Federal Judge Matthew Byrne, who presided: over the Ellsberg trial, by offering him the directorship of the F.B.I; persuaded a settlement of antitrust cases favorable to I.T.T. after the conglomerate donated $400,000 to the Republican party, and received huge cash contributions to his re-election effort from the dairy industry after agreeing to boost government price supports for dairy products. On another level, charges could also be brought concerning the unauthorized bombing in’ Cambodia, not just as a criminal act, but as the “high crime” cited in the Constitution’s clause on impeachment.
While the President has sought to rebuff the aforementioned allegations and while his supporters argue that he has not committed an ‘‘impeachable offense,” large doubts remain jn the minds of many Americans, if we are to believe public opinion polls. Indeed, were Mr. Nixon a prime minister in a parliamentary form of government he would have been ousted long, long ago. For under that system, expression of political outrage is enough; no “high crimes or misdemeanors” need be alleged. It suffices that the people, or their representatives, no longer “like” the man or his policies.
But in our democratic system, different methods are employed. The key question in discussing impeachment concerns the effect it might have on America, domestically and internationally (especially with regard to Middle Eastern policy). There is some validity to the contention of those supporting impeachment that for the country to simply forget the revelations of the past year-and-a-half would be far worse that enduring for the next three years a cripples, crooked presidency. They reason that American policy toward Isael is so firmly rooted, despite the present fuel shortage and the concomitant pressure it brings to bear upon the United States, that the successor to Mr. Nixon (which is certain to be Gerald Ford, who has a firm record in support of Israel) would not initiate any drastic changes.
There is equal, and in certain respects, even more cogency to the argument that the impeachment of Richard Nixon, might seriously endanger Israel's security. Surely it is not, as a recent letter writer to The New York Times averred, “unduly naive… timorous or calculatingly despicable” to refrain from calling for the impeachment of the President on grounds of possible danger to Israel. Israeli leaders themselves, while publicly remaining aloof from the controversy, privately are glad that Mr. Nixon is still in office.
Even if one were to conceded that a switch in presidents to someone like Mr. Ford would result in no appreciable danger to Israel, the consequences of the impeachment process could not be ignored. Would the Soviet Union, for example, during or after inevitably elongated impeachment sessions, feel free to engage in unequivocal military activity on behalf of the Arabs? In a recent column, Vermont Royster of The Wall Street Journal points out that “if President Nixon… were removed from office, we would be turning over the presidency to someone elected to no office by the whole nation.” “With what authority then,” he asks, :could the President and the Secretary of State speak to the world? Would a Congress embroiled in a formal impeachment trial have the time or inclination to respond to a presidential call for emergency action…?”
No sane individual doubts that public confidence in U.S. government is at an almost incredible nadir. However, when one considers some of the arguments for impeachment, the implication is that public confidence in government would miraculously be restored if only the President were removed from office. Unfortunately, this is not the case. If it were possible to dispose of Mr. Nixon silently without undergoing an impeachment proceeding and without fearing for Israel's interests, that option would be preferable. But, since that denouement will never come about, Richard Nixon is here to stay.