For at least the fourth time in our history, the US House of Representatives is investigating a sitting president for impeachable offenses. Besides the official investigation that Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed yesterday against Donald Trump, there was Andrew Johnson in 1868, Richard Nixon in 1973, and Bill Clint 1998. Nixon resigned before his case came to trial in the Senate while the Senate failed to find Johnson and Clinton guilty of the charges.
With yesterday’s decision by Pelosi the question arises, what are impeachable charges? The US Constitution clearly states that the president, the vice president, and all civil officers, may be impeached. Stated impeachable offenses would include “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
I’m going to define high crimes as those things we normally refer to as being felonies. Serious crimes that in the normal world could be punished with imprisonment. In the case of Trump and the most recent claims, if he did ask the president of Ukraine, eight times, to provide him with dirt on his political rival, Joe Biden, that could well be the commission of the high crime of bribery, especially if he used $400 million in military aid as leverage. High crimes and misdemeanors are not always easy to understand. I was asked yesterday, what exact law has been broken by what Trump is accused of? Well, the answer is that impeachment does not require the breaking of a specific law. In fact, the Constitution does not define what high crimes and misdemeanors are. But if, as is required, one studies the notes and writings of the Founders and scholars of that time, one can see that the meanings of these terms were meant to be non-specific and very broad. I am not a lawyer and more specifically, I am not a Constitutional lawyer. But, I can read and understand the law and in simple terms, I can explain what others have said. With that in mind I can say that high crimes are self-explanatory, they constitute felonies or serious crimes. The Mueller Report listed ten or more instances of obstruction of justice committed by the Trump White House. Obstruction of justice is a felony, a crime punishable by imprisonment in most instances. Using the position and power of the office for financial gain would clearly be a felony. Turning one’s back on possibly corrupt behavior by cabinet officials could be considered aiding and abetting illegal behavior. While policy prohibits the indictment of the president for such things there are no protections against the impeachment of such. The American free press along with Donald Trump’s political adversaries have accused him of many such offenses and House investigations may easily prove them correct. The category of misdemeanors is very broad. By definition, they are crimes and/or behaviors that are less serious than felonies and again, there doesn’t have to be a specific law broken. That fact-finders have charged Trump with having lied or mislead the public over 12,000 times since taking office could be impeachable. That Trump has made statements contrary to the equal protection of the law, as required by the 14th Amendment, could be impeachable. Remember that the question of public trust is involved and something as simple as the president being lazy could be impeachable. The record clearly shows that Trump spends an inordinate amount of time playing golf, watching cable news, and ranting on Twitter. When does he actually, “work?” It would be a stretch but what he describes as “executive time” could be impeachable. Riding over and above all of this is the matter of “public trust.” If the president engages in activities that violate or threaten the trust that people can place in their leaders, such activities could be considered impeachable. Consider that Bill Clinton was impeached because many people came to question his morality. Nixon was impeached because he was found with a smoking gun in his hand, proof of high-crimes and Trump is especially vulnerable to both high crimes and other behaviors that certainly call into question both his criminal propensity and his violating the public trust. As Rachel Maddow recently suggested, we are alive right now and we are witness to events that will write the pages of history books for decades, if not centuries, to come. We need to be paying attention. This, to me, is far more interesting and important than who wins Dancing with The Stars.