HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- President Donald Trump appears to be the third president to face an active impeachment investigation in the U.S. House of Representatives since the early 1970s.
President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 during an impeachment investigation spurred by the Watergate scandal. President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 by the U.S. House on the grounds that he lied and obstructed justice in connection with a sexual harassment lawsuit alleging misbehavior while he was Governor of Arkansas.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sept. 24 the House would open an official impeachment inquiry after alleging President Trump violated his oath of office in a discussion with the president of Ukraine where he appeared to ask for an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
WHNT News 19 Political Analyst Jess Brown said there are misconceptions about how the impeachment process works.
"Impeachment simply means the House votes by a majority of its members to assert that there are charges against a president that that would justify his removal from office," Brown said. "Impeachment does not necessarily mean conviction and removal."
The U.S. Senate is then responsible for holding a trial. Brown said U.S. Supreme Court precedent seems to make it clear the Senate has to hold a trial, including presentations by House managers of the impeachment and the calling of witnesses.
But a conviction and removal from office would require two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to find the president guilty.
"Of course the framers said the president could be removed for treason, bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors," Brown said. "It`s that phrase 'high crimes and misdemeanors' for which we have no Supreme Court precedent."
Brown says the framers of the U.S. Constitution decided a high crime had to be more than bad judgment. He said the White House's released summary of Trump's call with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky could be read a few different ways.
"You can make the argument that it was a gross abuse of presidential power," he said, "and you can the argument that it was just poor judgment."
The partisan divide is clear, the momentum for against the President's impeachment and removal or political survival, will come from independent voters, Brown said.
"Right now, independent voters tend to be evenly split," Brown said. " But they actually favored trump a month ago by some 10 or 12 points.
The impeachment hearings expected in the coming months could play a major role in how the case against President Trump is viewed, Brown said. He said President Nixon maintained a solid approval rating with independent voters, but over time as revelations about Watergate and the related cover-up emerged, Nixon's support faded, ultimately leading to his resignation.
The same questions about where independent voters will move are central to how the current impeachment drama will play out, Brown said.
"They now make up more than a third of the electorate, probably less than 40 percent, and as they go, so goes impeachment."