Opinion | Congratulations, Mr. President
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The founders used broad language when they described the grounds for impeachment — the famous “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The generality of the term ensured that impeachment would be a political process, rather than a technical or purely legal one. There is no specific definition of an impeachable crime, in the way that there is a definition of robbery, assault or embezzlement.
But the founders did leave some pretty strong evidence for what kinds of offenses they were imagining. And President Trump — by seeking foreign interference in domestic politics, for personal gain — has come closer to committing those particular offenses than any president before him. He has outdone Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, who were impeached, and Richard Nixon, who would have been had he not resigned.
As the legal scholars Jean Galbraith and Michel Paradis wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week:
When drafting the Constitution’s Impeachment Clause, the Framers had a specific historical episode in mind. In 1649 the English House of Commons impeached King Charles I for treason. Charles was alleged to have unlawfully subverted English democracy, and the final article of impeachment charged that he colluded with England’s foreign adversaries in his campaign against his domestic political rivals …
During the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin cited this example “of a first Magistrate being formally brought to public Justice” as reason to include an impeachment clause in the Constitution. James Madison agreed, noting the need “for defending the Community against the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate,” who “might betray his trust to foreign powers.”
In America’s long history, Trump appears to be the president most deserving of impeachment as the founders envisioned it. Congratulations, Mr. President.
For more: “Delegates to the Constitutional Convention devoted a great deal of attention to the legal standard — the grounds for impeachment,” Cass Sunstein, a Harvard law professor and the author of the book “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide,” has written in The Washington Post. “Deliberations during the founding period strongly suggest that if the grounds for impeachment are clearly established, the House is not allowed to look the other way.”
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David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt • Facebook
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