Jennifer Schubert-Akin: Impeaching Trump could create dangerous precedent
October 1, 2018
Since the day President Trump was elected, longtime Democrats, including Reps. Maxine Waters, D-California, and Al Green, D-Texas, have been beating the impeachment drum.
But impeachment is more than just a buzzword. It has a specific constitutional meaning. Article II Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution sets out three impeachable offenses: treason, bribery and “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
While some hardcore partisans such as Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer suggest that the President has committed treason by conspiring with Russia to steal the election, the evidence for this charge is non-existent. Similarly, there are no serious accusations of bribery. But “high crimes and misdemeanors” is a more nebulous phrase that leaves President Trump more vulnerable to political impeachment attacks.
Opponents claim that President Trump should be impeached because he’s committed obstruction of justice by interfering with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible Russian collusion. If true, obstruction of justice seems like it could be considered a violation of this high crimes and misdemeanors standard.
President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives — but later acquitted by the Senate — for obstruction of justice and perjury related to the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
For evidence of this charge, critics point to President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the Special Counsel’s Russia probe. They also point to Trump’s alleged request to Comey to lay off the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s alleged false statements in regards to the Russia investigation.
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President Trump’s critics would surely try to convince a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives to vote to impeach President Trump on at least this obstruction charge. Yet even if a “blue wave” occurs, that’s no guarantee a majority will vote to do so. As recently as last December, an impeachment resolution in the House failed by a 364 to 58 margin.
Some Democrats are clearly worried about the political optics of overreaching in their opposition to the President. Longtime Democratic operative David Axelrod counsels against impeachment because Americans may view it as equivalent to a “bloodless coup.”
Even if the House voted to impeach the President, two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to convict him of that charge — an impossibility in this political climate.
Because of these high constitutional hurdles to impeachment, no U.S. presidents have been fully impeached from office. Only Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton have been impeached by the House. Richard Nixon, who would have likely been impeached by both houses of Congress, resigned before this could occur.
To help clarify these constitutional and historical precedents for impeachment, The Steamboat Institute is hosting an event on Thursday night at Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs. The event will feature a fact-based impeachment analysis by Professors Stephen Presser and William B. Allen, visiting scholars in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The event is free and open to the public. Please register at steamboatinstitute.org/events to guarantee a seat. The event is part of The Steamboat Institute’s Campus Liberty Tour, which attempts to teach students how to think, not what to think.
Absent additional evidence, impeaching President Trump would establish a dangerous precedent. It would give partisans from either party the justification to remove a future duly-elected president they don’t like from office. The impeachment cries we’re currently hearing would become the norm rather than the exception.
As a result of these concerns, the push to impeach may backfire. Opponents of President Trump would probably be better off trying to defeat him the old-fashioned way — through persuasion and at the ballot box.
Jennifer Schubert-Akin is chairman and CEO of The Steamboat Institute.