The Founders would be concerned if Trump won with help from a foreign nation on unfriendly terms with the U.S. But we don’t have the facts yet.
Talk of impeaching President Trump surged after Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser and transition aide, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. But what is the real meaning of the Constitution’s mysterious provision authorizing removal of the president and other federal officials for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”? Is the growing interest in impeachment simply wishful thinking by Trump’s political opponents?
Before we get to current events, let’s insist on a principle of political neutrality.
Under the Constitution, presidents have four-year terms. It’s not legitimate to call for impeachment simply because you abhor the president or think that he is making terrible blunders.
If you are inclined to think that he has committed an impeachable act, you should immediately ask yourself: Would I also think that if I voted for him and thought he was doing a terrific job?
And if you are inclined to dismiss a suggestion that a president might be impeachable, you should immediately ask yourself: Would I also think that if I voted against him and thought that he was doing miserable job?
The Constitution was designed to reduce the risk that impeachment would be a partisan affair. “High crimes and misdemeanors” are a reference to what Virginia’s George Mason called “great and dangerous offenses” — egregious abuses of presidential authority.
Adopted against the background of the American Revolution, the impeachment clause was meant to ensure that We the People would ultimately be in charge. The clause gives us a sword and a shield whenever the president engages in actions that turn out to be treasonous, corrupt or in defiance of the defining national commitment to self-government.
That means that some violations of the criminal law are not impeachable. If a president shoplifts, punches one of his Cabinet members, jaywalks, or cheats on his taxes, he has not committed a high crime and misdemeanor.
At the same time, a…