For Impeachment, It Doesn’t Matter Whether Trump Broke The Law
A serious conversation about impeaching President Donald Trump is underway. But it may be going in the wrong direction already.
Even before Wednesday’s appointment of a special counsel to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and Russia as well as possible attempts to conceal them, lawyers were all over television arguing whether Trump’s actions to date constituted an “obstruction of justice” that would earn a conviction in a normal criminal proceeding. They particularly focused on the president’s reported request that former FBI Director James Comey drop an investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
But impeachment is not a normal criminal proceeding, and official constitutional grounds for removal go beyond whether a president has broken the law. On the contrary, the Constitution reserves impeachment and removal for instances of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
There’s a reason for that. The document’s framers weren’t out to punish crime when they wrote the impeachment clause. They were trying to construct a mechanism for removing a threat to democracy.
The question for Congress ― and eventually, the public ― is whether, given available evidence, Trump constitutes that kind of threat.
Impeachment is about protecting constitutional democracy.
The Constitution is reasonably specific about how Congress goes about removing a president. The process begins in the House, with the Judiciary Committee (or some other committee that Congress designates) drawing up articles of impeachment specifying the president’s alleged offenses. If the committee approves the articles, the full House considers them. On the floor, as in committee, a mere majority is sufficient for approval.
Such a vote ends the actual impeachment phase, which is […]