Monday, December 2, 2019

What Should Be Grounds for Presidential Impeachment?

The Constitution, as we know, issues a rather grand and confusing definition of the grounds for impeachment. So Article Two Section 4 begins
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.
Treason, according to the Constitution Article 3, Section 3, Clause 1:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
But does negotiating with a foreign power, and getting a quid quo pro amount to Treason? I doubt it.

Bribery, according to the Constutional Rights Foundation:
It takes place when a person gives an official money or gifts to influence the official’s behavior in office. For example, if defendant Smith pays federal Judge Jones $10,000 to find Smith not guilty, the crime of bribery has occurred.
In fact, several federal judges have been impeached and removed from office for bribery. But whatabout giving money to a candidate for president? I once had a boss that gave money to a politician and immediately wanted a quid quo pro. The politician was monstrously offended. Of course. A direct quid quo pro is not how the system works. Politicians help their friends, not their contributors.

What about high crmes and misdemeanors? La Wik:
Since 1386, the English parliament had used the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” to describe one of the grounds to impeach officials of the crown. Officials accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors” were accused of offenses as varied as misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, not spending money allocated by Parliament, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, losing a ship by neglecting to moor it, helping “suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament,” granting warrants without cause, and bribery.[9] Some of these charges were crimes. Others were not... They can be thought of as serious cases of power abuse or dereliction of duty, without a requirement for these cases to be explicitly against the law. 
Well, on those grounds, I'd say that every politician that ever lived is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, since the whole point of politics is to obtain by force what cannot be obtained by ordinary social cooperation.

So let us forget all that, and appoint ourselves philosophers and try to think what would really justsify impeaching and removing a president.

  • Whatabout asking a foreign power to look into a case of corruption involving a US politician? I don't think so.
  • Whatbaout conversations between a presidential candidate's staff and a foreign power? I don't think so.
  • Whatabout using the intelligence community to spy on a presidential candidate's campaign? Yeah. Could be.
  • Whatbaout using a foreign power to gussie up a piece of false opposition research against a presidential candidate? Hmm. Good point.
  • Whatabout a nod and a wink to the IRS to slow up the process of political groups applying for non-profit status? Good idea, but impossible to prove.
  • Whatabout handing out goodies to members of Congress in return for support on a major bill? Are you kidding?
  • Whatabout provoking Japan in 1940-41 and then doing nothing when you know, from decoded messages that the Japanese are on their way to attack Pearl Harbor? Yeah. That's a puzzler.

The point is that I don't know if there could ever be an impeachment of a president that really committed an act worth removal from office. That's because presidents are pretty savvy guys that know what they can get away with. They know what kind of support they can expect in Congress and they know, roughly speaking what it would take to get a 2/3rd vote against them in the Senate. If they have both houses of Congress held by their party, they figure that they can get away with a bunch of stuff. If the president is the First Black President he knows that anybody opposing him can be canceled as a racist. If both houses are held by the other party the president knows to behave himself.

Hey, I know! How about making a scandal of the president's actions, riling up your supporters, and defeating him when he runs for reelection?

Truth is that three of the four presidential impeachments thus far have been on the basis of the president having the nerve, the noive, to have been elected. The other, Clinton, impeachment was really tit-for-tat: you guys removed Nixon from office, so we can play at that game too.

Only, the Clinton impeachment showed how to deal with impeachment. You rally your troops, as Al Gore did when Clinton was impeached in the House. And you win in the Senate. And hey, maybe you rally your troops enough to actually gain seats in the off-year election of the second term of the president.

The Clinton impeachment cured Republicans of the disease. I wonder if a Trump reelection and a Republican House in 2020 would cure the Dems of their impeachment fever.

I hope so.

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