Now that Democrats hold a substantial majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the odds that President Donald Trump will be impeached are substantially increased. No duh. I’m not saying it will happen, just that the odds went up from zero last year to some double-digit percentage of likelihood.
Of course, I use the term “impeached” precisely, by which I mean the first step in the constitutional process for removal of a president, the one that occurs in the U.S. House and requires only a majority vote. As you know, the second step for the involuntary removal of a president requires trial in the Senate and a vote of two-thirds of the senators to convict the president of an impeachable offense.
Exactly what constitutes such an offense is a murky legal/political/constitutional question. The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” is, basically, whatever a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate (after conducting a “trial”) decide it is. Only two presidents — Andrew Johnson just after the Civil War and Bill Clinton in 1998-99 — have ever been impeached. And none was been convicted/removed. (Richard Nixon resigned before his impeachment proceedings reached a vote in the U.S. House.)
While the odds of a majority vote in the House (now that Democrats are in the majority) have risen, the odds of conviction and removal in the Senate, which requires a two-thirds majority vote, still strike me as low.
If things even start down this path, Trump would have to be charged with a specific list of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” My main purpose in discussing the question today is just to pass along an impressive column from yesterday’s New York Times by columnist David Leonhardt, in which he enumerates some of the allegations that he believes could be used to make the case. It ran under the headline: “The People vs. Donald J. Trump; He is demonstrably unfit for office. What are we waiting for?”
But if, despite my recommendation, you are still reading this, here are couple of excerpts (although you really need to see how the whole things builds momentum):
Leonhardt quotes two of the key Framers of the Constitution and authors of the Federalist Papers, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, who described the impeachment powers as necessary to remove officials for “the abuse or violation of some public trust” (Hamilton) or for demonstrating the “incapacity, negligence or perfidy” of a president (Madison).
Then Leonhardt suggests some of the categories of alleged Trumpian perfidy and abuse he thinks might qualify:
[Trump] has repeatedly put his own interests above those of the country. He has used the presidency to promote his businesses. He has accepted financial gifts from foreign countries. He has lied to the American people about his relationship with a hostile foreign government. He has tolerated cabinet officials who use their position to enrich themselves…
To shield himself from accountability for all of this — and for his unscrupulous presidential campaign — he has set out to undermine the American system of checks and balances. He has called for the prosecution of his political enemies and the protection of his allies. He has attempted to obstruct justice. He has tried to shake the public’s confidence in one democratic institution after another, including the press, federal law enforcement and the federal judiciary.
Those are generalizations, but Leonhardt offers plenty of specifics. You’ll have to read him to get those, but he broke them down into these four categories of possibly impeachable allegations:
Trump has used the presidency for personal enrichment.
Trump has violated campaign finance law.
Trump has obstructed justice. And:
Trump has subverted democracy.