Email #183: “grounds for impeachment”?

Donald Trump thought that the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998 was “nonsense,” but that Speaker Nancy Pelosi should have led an impeachment of President Bush for misleading the public about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Trump said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in 2008:

“Well, you know, when [Pelosi] first got in and was named speaker, I met her. And I’m very impressed by her. I think she’s a very impressive person. I like her a lot. I was surprised that she didn’t do more in terms of Bush and going after Bush. It was almost — it just seemed like she was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which, personally, I think would have been a wonderful thing.”

Blitzer: “Impeaching him?”

Trump: “Absolutely, for the war, for the war.”

Blitzer: “Because of the conduct of the war.”

Trump: “Well, he lied. He got us into the war with lies. And, I mean, look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant. And they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense. And, yet, Bush got us into this horrible war with lies, by lying, by saying they had weapons of mass destruction, by saying all sorts of things that turned out not to be true.”

You voted to impeach President Clinton. Looking back, do you agree with President Trump that your decision was “nonsense” and the matter “totally unimportant.” Do you agree with the President that President Bush should have been impeached for “lying” and “saying all sorts of things that turned out not to be true”?

In 2014, you said on ABC that you disagreed with calls from fellow Republicans to impeach President Obama: “The Constitution is very clear as to what constitutes grounds for impeachment of the President of the United States. He has not committed the kind of criminal acts that call for that.”

But the Constitution is not very clear. It only states: “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.”Before he resigned, President Nixon was going to be impeached because he “prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice.” But House Republicans impeached President Johnson in 1868 for breaking the now defunct Tenure of Office Act by firing a cabinet member and for failing to execute The Reconstruction Acts.

The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” is ambiguous too, but it typically includes: “allegations of misconduct peculiar to officials, such as perjury of oath, abuse of authority, bribery, intimidation, misuse of assets, failure to supervise, dereliction of duty, unbecoming conduct, and refusal to obey a lawful order.”

While perjury and bribery are clearly defined crimes, intimidation and unbecoming conduct are not. White House lawyers have started to consult experts on impeachment proceedings. I imagine members of your House Judiciary Committee have been brushing up too since the committee is considered “the lawyer of the House of Representatives” and is in charge of impeachment.

You seemed to have been anticipating impeaching Secretary Clinton when it appeared she would be elected president last fall. You accidentally refered to a “perjury referral” as an “impeachment referral” when describing your questioning of FBI Director Comey about Clinton’s testimony to Congress.

Given the ambiguity of the impeachment clause and the vacillating opinions of so many politicians regarding its use, would you please explain your interpretation of that law? What areas of misconduct apply and do not apply and at what evidentiary thresholds?

According to his written testimony, former FBI Director James Comey “understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn.” He considered the request “very concerning” but because “it was a one-on-one conversation” and so “there was nothing available to corroborate,” he did not “report it to Attorney General Sessions.” Do you consider this evidence of abuse of power?

News agencies have also recently reported that the President requested Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to intervene with Comey to end the FBI investigation. If Coats and Pompeo corroborate this account, would you consider it evidence of obstruction of justice?

You said the deputy attorney general’s appointment of a special counsel “will help instill much needed public confidence in the investigation.” Public confidence is much needed in your own office too. While I have no idea what will emerge from the current FBI, Senate, House investigations, you constituents need to know that you will set aside all political considerations and evaluate the facts according to transparent principles. To do that, you need to communicate those principles in advance of any investigative findings.

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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