The impeachment puzzle
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Presidential oath of office, U.S. Constitution.
When a person takes the presidential oath of office, he or she is vowing to uphold the law, put America’s interests above their own, and not use the presidency for their personal profit. If a president violates this oath, the remedy is impeachment.
“The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 4
In this context, “misdemeanor” doesn’t mean a lesser crime. It means any behavior that compromises the office. Impeachment and conviction don’t require that an actual crime was committed. They do require that a person is proven to be unfit for office. Here are some statements by the Founders about impeachment.
Alexander Hamilton said misdemeanors were “… those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” Benjamin Franklin said impeachment was necessary when the executive “rendered himself obnoxious.”
James Madison said “… impeachment… was indispensable… for defending the community (against) the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief magistrate.”
The Founders knew that our country needed protection against a president who might prove to be incompetent, a crook, or just plain “obnoxious.” Republicans used to believe this too.
In 1974, President Richard Nixon faced impeachment. One of the charges against him was obstruction of justice by refusing to honor subpoenas and give Congress materials they had legally requested. Other charges included abuse of power and failure to pay taxes. Sound familiar?
Nixon resigned from office before the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives took place. Then came President Bill Clinton.
Investigations into Clinton began in 1978, when he was attorney general for Arkansas. From then on, he was under almost constant investigation. In 1998, Republicans were desperate to impeach Clinton, but after years of trying, all they could find to charge him with was lying about his consensual affair with Monica Lewinsky and trying to get her to lie too. These were serious issues, but they didn’t impact government in any way.
To add legitimacy to their impeachment, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., then a member of the House of Representatives, said that Clinton was refusing to honor subpoenas from Congress. He compared Clinton to Nixon, saying, “The day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day he was subject to impeachment because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process away from Congress, and he became the judge and jury…. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”
Clinton was ultimately acquitted by the Senate.
Now there is a growing movement to impeach President Donald Trump. Contrary to their words about Clinton and Nixon, Republicans, including Graham, defend Trump no matter how much he dishonors the presidency or uses the office for his own profit or puts our country at risk with his chaotic policies and actions.
What would possible Articles of Impeachment against Trump include? Here are a few examples out of many.
Obstruction of justice. Robert Mueller’s report outlined at least 10 instances of obstruction. These are crimes.
Bribery. The Federal Bribery Statute, 18 U.S.C. 201(b), defines bribery, which isn’t just offering money. If a president directs members of an administration to commit crimes and promises them pardons if they get caught, that is bribery. The pardon doesn’t have to actually be given. The offer alone is a violation. Trump has allegedly done this. This is a serious charge.
Contempt of Congress. Just as Nixon did, Trump has refused to honor congressional subpoenas and give Congress materials they legally requested. As Graham said in 1998, by refusing Congress’s legal request, Trump has made himself “judge and jury,” trying to put his power above Congress’s.
Trump is also trying to usurp Congress’s power of the purse by diverting billions from the military budget, including $91 million for military projects in Nevada, and putting that money toward his wall.
Trump has committed impeachable offenses similar to Nixon and Clinton; the corruption charges are also piling up. The puzzle is, if Republicans believed Nixon and Clinton should be impeached, why are they defending Trump?
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.