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Phil Williams tasked with Leading Effort to Writing Senate Impeachment Rules

By Brandon Moseley

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to create a bipartisan subcommittee to begin writing rules for an impeachment trial in the Senate.

This new subcommittee will be chaired by Senator Phil Williams (R from Rainbow City). Sen. Williams said, “As far as I can see in the event that impeachment came up from the House there are zero procedures in place as to how the Senate would preside.”

Sen. Williams said that he discussed the possibility that the House might impeach Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) with Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R from Anniston). Marsh said to start looking into it now.

Williams said that the Alabama House has not considered impeachment of anyone since 1915. The motion to impeach the Secretary of State then did not advance out of the House, so the Senate has never held an impeachment trial under Alabama’s 1901 Constitution.

Williams said that they have had to look outside of Alabama to find a template for how to conduct an impeachment proceeding in the Senate. The primary two examples the subcommittee is studying are Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) impeachment in Illinois and the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton (D).

Pres. Clinton was not convicted and never faced a criminal indictment for his false statements under oath about his relationship with Whitehouse intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was the only second President in American history to face an impeachment trial.

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Governor Blagojevich was arrested by federal agents on December 9, 2008 and charged with corruption. The Justice Department alleged that Blagojevich conspired to commit several “pay to play” schemes, including attempting “to obtain personal gain … through the corrupt use” of his authority to fill Barack Obama’s vacated United States Senate seat (Obama resigned after being elected President). The Illinois House voted 114-1 (with three abstentions) to impeach Blagojevich A trial was set for June 3, 2010[ and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald spoke out on the charges, characterizing Blagojevich’s actions as trying to auction the open seat off to “the highest bidder”. He was removed from office and prohibited from ever holding public office again in a 59 to 0 vote of the Senate. The Lieutenant Governor then formally became Governor.

Sen. Williams said that there are zero procedures in place for this

Senator Cam Ward (R from Alabaster) is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chairman Ward said that Gov. Bentley would be suspended immediately if the House votes to impeach him pending action by the Senate.

Sen. Ward said, “What they (the subcommittee) are trying to do is to come up with a fair process.” “We don’t want to run into the same things they have seen downstairs.”

Sen. Williams said that he expects legal challenges from the Bentley defense team. “Most of them will be at the House level.”

Sen. Ward said that in his opinion they lack impeachment power.

Williams said that subpoena power is potentially there but enforcement power is not. “Whether we have subpoena power or not is yet to be determined.”

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Williams said that the subcommittee will start absorbing and thinking through the process tomorrow. Removing a Governor despite his receiving the votes of the vast majority of the voters in the state is a power that they do not take that lightly.

Williams said that they wanted the most fair adequate and just process possible.

Sen. Ward said that he was in intern in the Attorney General’s office when Governor Guy Hunt (R) was removed and it was huge

On the timeline, Ward said, “My suspicion is that if the House does act it will be some time in April.”

Williams said that while he agreed with Senator Ward, the Governor could file a legal challenge that delayed that imeline.

Sen. Phil Williams said, “This (Bentley’s impeachment) will be, if it were to happen, it would be the single largest political event to take place in the state in my lifetime.

Impeachment subcommittee Chairman Williams announced that the first meeting of the subcommittee will be in room 727 today 30 minutes prior to the Senate going into session.

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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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