Email #293: “grounds for impeachment”?

In July, Rep. Sherman and Rep. Green introduced articles of impeachment arguing that President Trump obstructed justice by hindering a criminal investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn, including requesting that FBI director Comey curtail the investigation and then firing Comey when Comey refused.

In August, Rep. Cohen drafted articles of impeachment arguing that President Trump failed the “presidential test of moral leadership” after his remarks about the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. Cohen intends to introduce those articles this month.

I lack the legal and constitutional expertise to fully evaluate them, but in my lay understanding of impeachment Rep. Cohen’s articles seem to fall short of the necessary standards. Even if the President did objectively fail a “test of moral leadership,” I don’t believe that creates the legal grounds for his removal. Is that correct? But if the President obstructed justice, then Reps. Sherman and Green’s articles would have legal merit. Is that also correct? Since as chair of the House Judiciary Committee you control the impeachment process, could you please explain your criteria for determining whether to bring articles to a vote?

I understand that there are multiple Congressional investigations into these and directly related matters being run by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and the Senate Judiciary Committee—though for some reason not your own House Judiciary Committee—and of course special counsel Mueller is investigating them from the executive branch.

Reports from these five investigations may or may not lead to further articles of impeachment. But in the meantime, Congress is not barred from moving forward with impeachment now. I am not arguing that it should. I would simply like to understand your position on entertaining articles, since your rhetoric seems so contradictory.

You said as recently as this month that: “Throughout President Obama’s time in office, he used his ‘pen and phone’ to overstep his authority and unilaterally rewrite our nation’s laws… His actions were wholly unconstitutional.” In December 2014 you said: “President Obama declared war against the Constitution.” While those certainly sound like impeachable offenses, you also said in 2014: “We are not working on or drawing up articles of impeachment. 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.”

I assume you can see how very unclear that distinction is to both your Republican and Democratic constituents. How can a president wage “war on the Constitution” through “wholly unconstitutional” actions and also be protected by the Constitution from impeachment? Since calls for impeachment are likely to increase in the coming weeks and months as the five investigations complete their work, it would benefit the nation if you would clarify your ambiguous threshold for moving articles to a vote within the House Judiciary Committee and so then on for consideration by the entire House.

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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