The Scope Of Impeachment

The big question about Trump’s impeachment is whether the scope should be narrow or broad.  Initially, Nancy Pelosi seemed determined to keep the focus on Trump’s attempts to bribe/blackmail Ukrainian President Zelenskyy for personal gain.  That, in and of itself, is enough for impeachment, but there is so much more … should the House expand the horizon and include Trump’s other violations of his oath of office?  There are mixed feelings about it among the experts and journalists.  Today, I would like to share New York Times columnist David Leonhardt’s view, for it is one with which I largely agree.

The Eight Counts of Impeachment That Trump Deserves

The lessons from Nixon and Clinton.

david-leonhardtBy David Leonhardt

Opinion Columnist

During Watergate, the House Judiciary Committee considered five articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon — and voted down two of them. During the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the House voted on four articles — and rejected two.

That history serves as a reminder that impeachment is not a neat process. It’s a chance for Congress and voters to hear the evidence against a president and decide which rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

My own instincts have leaned toward a targeted, easily understandable case against President Trump, focused on Ukraine. And that may still be the right call. But the House shouldn’t default to it without considering a larger airing of Trump’s crimes against the Constitution. A longer process, with more attention on his misdeeds, seems unlikely to help Trump’s approval rating.

So last week I posed a question to legal experts: If the House were going to forget about political tactics and impeach Trump strictly on the merits, how many articles of impeachment would there be?

I think the answer is eight — eight thematic areas, most of which include more than one violation.

In making the list, I erred on the side of conservatism. I excluded gray areas from the Mueller report, like the Trump campaign’s flirtation with Russian operatives. I also excluded all areas of policy, even the forcible separation of children from their parents, and odious personal behavior, like Trump’s racism, that doesn’t violate the Constitution.

Yet the list is still extensive, which underscores Trump’s thorough unfitness for the presidency. He rejects the basic ideals of American government, and he is damaging the national interest, at home and abroad. Here’s the list:

  1. Obstruction of justice.

Both the Nixon and Clinton articles included the phrase “prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice,” and Trump’s impeachment should start with his pattern of obstructing investigations.

He has admitted that he fired the F.B.I. director to influence the investigation of his own campaign. He has harassed Justice Department officials who are Russia experts, including Andrew McCabe and Bruce Ohr. Trump also directed his White House counsel to lie about their conversations over whether to fire Robert Mueller. Most recently, the White House tried to hide evidence about Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president, by improperly classifying material about it.

  1. Contempt of Congress.

Another article of impeachment against Nixon said that he had “failed without lawful cause” to cooperate with a congressional investigation. Trump has gone much further than Nixon, outright refusing to participate in the constitutionally prescribed impeachment process. As a result, the country still doesn’t know the full truth of the Ukraine scandal.

  1. Abuse of power.

The House will almost certainly adopt a version of this article, impeaching Trump for turning American foreign policy into a grubby opposition-research division of his campaign.

The most haunting part is that if a courageous whistle-blower hadn’t come forward, Trump most likely would have gotten away with it. He would have pressured the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of the Bidens, and we in the media would have played along, producing the headlines that Trump wanted to see.

  1. Impairing the administration of justice.

That phrase appears in the second impeachment article against Nixon, which detailed his efforts to use the I.R.S., F.B.I. and others to hound his opponents. It’s a version of abuse of power — but distinct from the previous item because it involves using the direct investigatory powers of the federal government.

Trump has repeatedly called for investigations against his political opponents, both in public and in private with aides. For example, as the Mueller report documented, he pressured Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, to investigate Hillary Clinton: “You’d be a hero,” Trump said. This behavior has violated the constitutional rights of American citizens and undermined the credibility of the judicial system.

  1. Acceptance of emoluments.

The Constitution forbids the president from profiting off the office by accepting “emoluments.” Yet Trump continues to own his hotels, allowing politicians, lobbyists and foreigners to enrich him and curry favor with him by staying there. On Sunday, William Barr, the attorney general, personally paid for a 200-person holiday party at Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington.

The Democratic-controlled House has done an especially poor job of calling attention to this corruption. It hasn’t even conducted good oversight hearings — a failure that, as Bob Bauer, an N.Y.U. law professor and former White House counsel, told me, “is just astonishing.”

  1. Corruption of elections.

Very few campaign-finance violations are impeachable. But $280,000 in undisclosed hush-money payments during a campaign’s final weeks isn’t a normal campaign-finance violation. The 2016 election was close enough — decided by fewer than 80,000 votes across three swing states — that the silence those payments bought may well have flipped the outcome.

  1. Abuse of pardons.

The president has wide latitude to issue pardons. But Trump has done something different: He has encouraged people to break the law (or impede investigations) with a promise of future pardons.

And he didn’t do it only during the Russia investigation. He also reportedly told federal officials to ignore the law and seize private land for his border wall, waving away their worries with pardon promises.

  1. Conduct grossly incompatible with the presidency.

This is the broadest item on the list, and I understand if some people are more comfortable with the narrower ones. But the “grossly incompatible” phrase comes from a 1974 House Judiciary Committee report justifying impeachment. It also captures Trump’s subversion of the presidency.

He lies constantly, eroding the credibility of the office. He tries to undermine any independent information that he does not like, which weakens our system of checks and balances. He once went so far as to say that federal law-enforcement agents and prosecutors regularly fabricated evidence — a claim that damages the credibility of every criminal investigation.

You may have forgotten about that particular violation of his oath of office, because Trump commits so many of them. Which is all the more reason to make an effort to hold him accountable.

37 thoughts on “The Scope Of Impeachment

  1. As for the Snarkees on your list, and all the ones on other people’s lists, if you want to insinuate they all jump over cliffs following an undeserving leader like Donald J. Thumbsucker, please feel free. We will need new victims to replace the cute little lemming metaphor.

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              • So I am told. To me, really, I just love life, only life is not an abstract thing. Life is beingness. That seems to be where I differ from most human beings, life is taken for granted by most. Pets, yes, they are important to me as well, but the word is abstract. I don’t have pets, I live with friends. Damn, Jill, I am trapped in another of those attempts to say something but I cannot direct the words in the needed direction. This is what confuses me.
                You make me happy. LuL.

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                • No, you’re saying it perfectly, dear friend. I don’t call our moggies ‘pets’, but I refer to them as family members who just happen to have fur and walk on all fours! Pets indicates ownership, and we do not ‘own’ them … we share a home with them. I have always felt that way. I have a friend … had a friend. She had a beautiful St. Bernard named Chassis, for she was about the size of an engine chassis. She loved that dog, and the dog loved her. Then, about 6-7 years ago, this friend had a baby. And, she decided that she no longer had time for Chassis. If she had let me know, I would have found a way to take her (Chassis), even though at the time we had 10 cats. But instead, she took her to the vet and had her euthanized. 😥 I told her exactly what I thought of her after I cried for a day, and she rarely speaks to me now, which is fine by me. I go out of my way to keep from stepping on an ant, while other people believe that animals were put her for their pleasure and convenience. It serves the human species right if they extinct themselves … but … not all of them, for there are good people in this world, too. Sigh. You make me happy too, dear Jerry. LuL


  2. I agree with you and David, Jill, that the House should go after Trump on multiple counts and politics be damned. They’ll never move his loyal tribe, but they are fighting for the undecided. Overwhelm them!

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    • Well, turns out that Nancy Pelosi and Jerry Nadler didn’t agree with us, as they filed only two Articles of Impeachment. The two they filed are probably the most likely to succeed in the House vote, and their justification for not adding more makes sense, so I won’t complain. Two or eight, the Senate isn’t going to convict him anyway, but he WILL be impeached in the House, which should be a dark cloud hanging over his head in next year’s election. Should be, anyway. Sigh.

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          • We need to focus on the 50% who polled saying they were in favour of Trump being removed from office. That should be way higher, but Fox & the other right-wing media are being very convincing. So sad!

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            • I keep reading, even by respected and sensible journalists, that the impeachment could backfire and give him a leg up next year. This depresses me terribly. Even so, we must follow through with the impeachment, for it is right and just, and if we don’t there will never be a means for holding a president accountable for his actions again. But, if it leads to him winning next year, the only hope we have left is one of those “good guys with a gun”, I’m afraid, for this nation will not ever be the same if we have to endure another 4 years of Trump.

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              • Jill, I’ve heard that often too and I think it is pure poppycock planted to frighten the Dems away from doing their duty to the nation. They already bowed to that kind of pressure by bringing in TWO counts instead of the EIGHT that should have been brought forward.

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                • I would think so if it were only coming from the right-wing pundits, but I’ve read the same thoughts put forth by journalists who I respect for their honesty and fairness. And, if you think about it, it seems that the more we point out Trump’s flaws and horrible behaviours, the more the masses come out in his defense. Sigh. I don’t understand it, but there is a contingent that seems to want a jerk in charge. Sigh.

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                  • My mother often reminded me that in a democracy, the voters get the government they deserve. I think that’s especially true of those lazy dolts who can’t be bothered to exercise their franchise on election day. But that’s another issue altogether.

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                    • She was right, I suppose. Sigh. Except for those of us who don’t deserve it. That “other issue” of voter apathy is, I think, one that needs to be hammered into people’s minds relentlessly over the coming 11 months … we need everybody … every single one of them … to get off their posteriors and vote!

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  3. I agree with all of your allegations re: Trump’s questionable conduct. The impeachment process is very clear if one follows procedural law. Here a constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley clarifies what constitute grounds for lawful impeachment sans partisanship. If you have time it’s well worth listening:

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  4. Considering I read yesterday the opinion of a judge that the Democrats are weakening the impeachment process and that the current attempt is doomed to failure and all future impeachments will be held to the same standards so both sides will be likely to attempt to impeach the other sides Presidents. This indicates to me that the Democrats should up their game and throw everything at Trump as he’s certainly guilty of these things and more.. Apart from letting the public know just what Trump has been up to, this will not be an easy thing to play at against other presidents in unwarranted actions.. So, go forth Ms Pelosi and make sure Trump pays for all his crimes.

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    • Sigh. I suppose it all depends on how one defines ‘success’ or ‘failure’. Trump will be impeached in the House, of that there is very little doubt. He will almost certainly NOT be convicted and removed from office in the Senate, so in that sense, yeah, it is doomed to fail. I agree with you 100% that they should go for all 8 Articles of Impeachment listed here by David Leonhardt, but I am told they will actually file only TWO articles of impeachment. Two. Obstruction of Congress, and Abuse of Power. It is enough, certainly, but yet … why stop there, for he has done much, much more. The republicans have convinced their loyal lemmings that the whole process is a sham, a hoax, a witch hunt, and nothing will convince them otherwise. Sigh. The Constitution burns tonight …

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      • I am so disappointed in you Jill. Still picking on poor, defenseless but badly-maligned lemmings. When are you, and the rest of the world, going to give them a reprieve, and give them back their dignity? Yes, I’m trying to be funny, but yet I am very serious. Lemmings don’t act like people say lemmings act, they are just furry little rodents doing what furry little rodents are prone to do, enjoy their lifes. Everyone, please stop picking on lemmings!

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