As odds for impeachment rise, NYT columnist Leonhardt lays out the case

President Donald Trump speaking to the media as he returns from Camp David to the White House on Sunday.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
President Donald Trump speaking to the media as he returns from Camp David to the White House on Sunday.

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.

The proper grounds for impeachment and removal, “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” are, to say the least, subject to interpretation, especially the last two categories. If things go that far, with Democrats currently holding 47 Senate seats, it would require at least 20 Republican senators to vote for conviction. As things now stand, that borders on unimaginable.

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?”

The column is right here. Stop reading me right now and read the whole powerful column.

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.

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Comments (48)

  1. Submitted by charles thompson on 01/07/2019 - 10:23 am.

    Personally I would like to see DJT run for re-election. In the meantime I expect to enjoy a stream of interesting revelations from the work of the reality based community.

  2. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/07/2019 - 10:43 am.

    Unfortunately not a single accusation in this story is true or even provable. Every President in recent times has left office far richer than when they got there. I didn’t read or hear any complaints when Obama violates campaign finance law either.

    • Submitted by Larry Moran on 01/07/2019 - 11:21 am.

      I would like to see the evidence from the last 4 or 5 presidents that “left office far richer than when they got there.” I agree that former presidents do well AFTER office with speaking engagements and book deals but I haven’t seen any indication that a president is substantially wealthier when they leave office than when the arrived. Do you have something we can link to? I’d also appreciate knowing what campaign finance law violations you’re referencing in relation to Obama. Thanks.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/07/2019 - 11:46 am.

      Alas, Mr. Barnes, while Eric’s column may or may not be “provable” to you, the same cannot be said – at least, not honestly – in the case of Leonhardt’s column in the NYT, which does cite specifics. You might want to follow Eric’s suggestion and actually read the Times piece yourself.

      I’m inclined to view Mr. Leonhardt’s piece as a gentle rebuke, rather than the full-blown attack that Mr. Trump so richly deserves. I vacillate between viewing Trump as an object of pity, as creeping senility and delusions of grandeur often dominate his offhand comments, and viewing him as a mob boss, with all the negative implications that go with that title, including habitual lies and what psychologists call “the illusion of central position,” common among small children, while running a small, dishonest enterprise that he’s kept in the family because that’s a good way to ensure personal loyalty as well as keeping the money available to him and those family associates.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/07/2019 - 11:56 am.

        Even Alan Dershowitz says there is no crime. I don’t even bother reading anything printed in the NYT as they have no reputation left.

        If there was any evidence of a crime, it would have been plastered on every media outlet in the nation.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/07/2019 - 01:04 pm.

          Alan Dershowitz is as pro-Trump as they come, so you can pretty well discount anything he says.

          It’s funny, but evidence of what Trump is doing/has done does get ” plastered on every media outlet in the nation.” His acolytes, of course, very conveniently choose to dismiss those outlets as having “no reputation left.”

          It’s easier than facing facts, isn’t it?

          • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/07/2019 - 02:06 pm.

            I’d take the word of a Harvard Law Professor over anyone that posts on this site. The Democrats will get wiped out in 2020 if they try to impeach Trump without any proof of a crime and Pelosi knows it. That’s why she has been pouring cold water on any claims of trying it.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/07/2019 - 02:21 pm.

              You know that impeachment is just a vote by the House of Representatives to direct the Senate to hold a trial, right? That impeachment by itself does not remove the President from office?

              You also know that Trump’s popularity is at a near laughable level, right? That great hordes of voters are not going to rise up top punish those who voted to put him on trial?

              • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/07/2019 - 04:00 pm.

                Of course I know all of that. But the House has to have a legitimate reason to impeach a President. It’s only happened twice in US history. If there is no convincing argument for impeachment other than you don’t like the guy, you will be excoriated by the people and thrown out of office at the next election.

                As for his poll numbers, they’ve been real close to Obama’s poll numbers at the same points in their first term. Either they are both terrible or Trump isn’t nearly as bad as you make him out to be.

                • Submitted by Joe Musich on 01/07/2019 - 05:33 pm.

                  I suggest you read at least the end 4 sentences of the link NYT opinion piece. At least you could get a better handle on the immediacy, time frame or even the process laid out by the writer. I must say I appreciate seeing that piece linked and discussed here.what is being said is not going away. Not this time.

            • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/07/2019 - 03:20 pm.

              Dershowitz has not been a law professor for five years. He’s now a political flack.
              And some quotes on Wikipedia:
              “The defendant wants to hide the truth because he’s generally guilty. The defense attorney’s job is to make sure the jury does not arrive at that truth.”
              “Judges are the weakest link in our system of justice, and they are also the most protected.”
              He was a civil libertarian in the ’60’s — that was then.

            • Submitted by kurt nelson on 01/07/2019 - 05:37 pm.

              “I’d take the word of a Harvard Law Professor over anyone that posts on this site”.

              Even Elizabeth Warren?

        • Submitted by Brian Simon on 01/07/2019 - 01:18 pm.

          I read an interesting piece in vox over the weekend on intellectual humility, or, the idea of being open to the possibility of being wrong. One metric on the subject is whether or not a person considers the views of those they disagree with, or discount them out of hand.

          I can certainly understand why someone might view the NYT editorial/ opinion secrtion as biased, but there’s still value in reading it, if for no other reason than to verify one’s understanding of the opposing view.

          • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/07/2019 - 02:02 pm.

            I hear the opposing view daily on countless news and media outlets including this one. The NYT has no credibility left at all. People mistakenly think I’m a Trump supporter but I would no sooner support him than Obama or Bush or Clinton.

            So far I have not seen one credible piece of evidence that Trump has committed a crime. He’s also no more incompetent than Obama was. The DOJ refuses to accuse him of a crime as well. Trump is a loud mouth and not any better or worse than the last 4 to 6 presidents in the grand scheme. Most of the policies under Obama are still in place under Trump. It was that way with Reagan, Bush41, Clinton, Bush43 and Obama. The general trend has continued unabated for 40 years.

  3. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 01/07/2019 - 10:57 am.

    In one respect I was disappointed when Mr. Mueller got a 6 month grand jury extension because that means Trump will have that much longer for his pointless shenanigans. On the other hand I want Mr. Mueller to neatly tie up the dumpster fire he has been wading through getting to the criminal element surrounding Trump and possibly Trump himself. Trump has no idea he is the President of all of America. He looks at himself as only the president of his base. Do you want to see Trump’s plans for the next two years? Trump’s plans? There are no plan. With a plan he would have something to be measured against. Trump never has a plan. “It’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country, so says Trump. Ironic words coming from our country’s biggest disgrace. Trump’s “Acting” Secretary of Defense stepped into the role with no foreign policy or military experience. No surprise here, it is much like the rest of the cabinet. The title of the majority of the cabinet members starts with “Acting” because he can find anyone to work for him anymore. Trump wants to declare a national emergency because he isn’t getting his wall. That is not the national emergency, Trump is the national emergency. Trump calls himself “a very stable genius.” In the real world he is nothing but a serial loser. These may not be impeachable actions, but they are evidence of a president unfit for any public office. Pretty soon, 2020 will be right in the windshield of the Republicans. They will no longer be able to sit on their hands unless they want the same result in 2020 that they had in the mid-term election.

  4. Submitted by Misty Martin on 01/07/2019 - 11:12 am.


    I was just finishing the very article you are referring to in this piece, when I saw that there was a new article from you. I agree with everything that David Leonhardt said: I just hope and pray that those in power will come to their senses as well. Our country is depending on it. I heard just today on the news that President Trump said to those facing no paychecks because of the government shut-down that they’d just have to figure something out or something along those lines. Easy for him to say. When did he ever have to do without?

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/07/2019 - 01:16 pm.

    Personally, I suspect that there are a sizable number of Senators who would rather run beside Pence in 2020 than Trump, who was a disaster for many Republicans.
    Look for a coalition of most Democrats and enough Republicans to support a conviction in the Senate after impeachment in the House.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/07/2019 - 01:37 pm.

      “Look for a coalition of most Democrats and enough Republicans to support a conviction in the Senate after impeachment in the House.”

      I don’t see that happening. Individual-1 still has an unfathomable amount of loyalty amongst the Republican base. Any hint of disloyalty, even if that disloyalty is a response to overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing, will be dealt with harshly. Expect primary challenges to those who would dare put the interests of the country ahead of the interests of the reincarnation of Cyrus the Great.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/07/2019 - 02:04 pm.

      Can you name 1 single impeachable offense with any proof to back it up? I know you can’t because none exist. Dems want to impeach him because he beat Hillary and they don’t like his style. Pelosi knows better than to attempt it.

      • Submitted by Larry Moran on 01/07/2019 - 02:33 pm.

        I am sure there is a fair amount of revenge in the pursuit of this president. And no, I don’t know of “1 single impeachable offense with any proof to back it up.” Then again, I don’t sit on any grand juries that have been investigating various aspects of the Trump campaign or presidency. I don’t work for the office of the Special Counsel who have been collecting information on various associates of Trump (and indicting and convicting them). I think I’ll wait until reports are published, hearings are held, and more indictments are revealed. Then I’ll decide if there are any impeachable offenses.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/07/2019 - 02:46 pm.

        There is authority to conclude that impeachment does not require a showing of a violation of the criminal law. Alexander Hamilton said that the impeachment power was given to Congress in order to respond to “those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

        Laurence Tribe, a law professor at Harvard, says that there is little or no evidence to conclude that the Framers of the Constitution understood “high crimes and misdemeanors” to include only indictable offenses.

        As someone once said, “I’d take the word of a Harvard Law Professor over anyone that posts on this site. “

        • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/07/2019 - 04:04 pm.

          And yet only 2 men have ever been impeached. Politicians in general are given a lot of leeway, right or wrong. So far, Trump has done nothing to warrant impeachment. He hasn’t violated the public trust or broken any laws. He’s not incompetent either. Any talk of impeachment so far has been nothing more than hatred of him for beating Hillary.

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/07/2019 - 04:24 pm.

            Lying to Congress is an impeachable offense, as Bill Clinton found out.
            Then there’s the matter of Trump’s ‘checkbook’ foundation.
            Finally, the ’emoluments’ clause.
            And thaat’s assuming that there’s nothing in Mueller’s report directly involving Trump himself (something about giving aid and comfort to a hostile foreign power).

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/07/2019 - 04:46 pm.

            “He hasn’t violated the public trust or broken any laws. ” Well, now, that’s a matter of opinion, isn’t it? The Emoluments Clause is not a criminal statute, but there is a lot of reason he has treated that with the same sanctity he has treated his marriage vows.

            “He’s not incompetent either.” If you genuinely believe that, I am from Amazon customer support and we need to verify certain transactions. Can I have your credit card number, the expiration date, and the three-digit code on the back?

          • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/08/2019 - 10:17 am.

            Mr. Barnes,

            Only two **Presidents** [not “men”] have ever been impeached. Lots of federal judges have been impeached.

            And negligence by a president is impeachable, according to the founders. If you think that this “I trust my gut” president, who watches TV for long hours of every day, when he’s not playing golf, has been working at the job, you haven’t been paying attention–or you have partisan blinders on. He doesn’t even read the daily classified briefings prepared for him! He makes things up and states them as truth because he doesn’t have any facts to go on.

            He is incompetent, and may even be intellectually unfit. If you don’t think incompetence is impeachable, you’re hiding.

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/08/2019 - 03:34 pm.

            Nixon was not impeached and convicted only because he finally had the sense to resign.

  6. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 01/07/2019 - 02:48 pm.

    Its interesting, and a bit scary, how there are two very distinct version of reality on display here in these comments and in the nation at large. Personally I don’t know how someone can not see what a complete fraud Donald is. I guess his followers don’t listen to any news outlet that might disagree with their view, its all one big conspiracy to bring down the “great” man. Its gotta take a lot of looking the other way to continue to beleive that. I really have to wonder what other aspects of their lives is a complete fantasy as well. Easy marks for any grifter that might come along?

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/07/2019 - 04:10 pm.

      List his frauds. What exactly has he done that you think people aren’t seeing?

      He hasn’t run any guns to Mexico like the last administration did. He brags a lot about being popular even if he isn’t. He hasn’t broken any laws yet. Most of his policies are just a continuation of Obama’s and Bush’s before that. He did toss away some of his most important campaign promises but then all politicians do that.

      I don’t support the guy at all but I don’t see that he is a fraud or criminal or puppet of Putin or any of the other nonsense. He is a run of the mill politician that doesn’t speak in politically correct terms.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/07/2019 - 04:26 pm.

        No, he’s a mediocre politician WHO has set a new record for lying to the public.
        That he’s grammatically challenged is beside the point.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/07/2019 - 04:47 pm.

        “I don’t support the guy at all . . .” Then why are you going to such lengths to defend him?

        I presume you did not support Obama. Did you make such strong arguments to defend him from criticism?

      • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/07/2019 - 04:48 pm.

        Let’s see how we all feel about this on Friday, after the President’s prime-time address to the nation about the “crisis” on our southern border. Should he invoke a “national emergency,” when there patently and obviously is not one, we’ll be looking at an full-blown attempt to circumvent both Congress and the Constitution in a straightforward attempt to accrue power to himself. A certain dictator used a fire in the national legislative building of a European power in the 1930s as a pretext to seize power for himself, and speaking purely personally, the parallels between that person and our current chief executive are closer than I like to see.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 01/07/2019 - 06:10 pm.

        Just as a starter, a court found that Trump University was a fraud.

      • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 01/07/2019 - 06:28 pm.

        He was forced shutdown his “charitable” organization. No one with the name Trump will ever be allowed to sit on the board of any Charitable organization in he state of New York. He was forced to close Trump University and pay 25 million in a class action lawsuit. That’s just off the top of my head.

        Obviously you’re not going to believe any of it, that’s your right, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/08/2019 - 07:58 am.

        …He hasn’t run any guns to Mexico like the last administration did…

        I assume you’re talking about “Fast and Furious”, an operation for which a dozen or so BATF line supervisors were found to have exercised poor judgement with their repeat of a Bush-era sting operation. None of these people ever had contact with the executive branch or were in the direct supervisory purview of Obama.

        Whereas now with Trump, we have a couple dozen of people who were hired or appointed by Trump and under Trumps direct purview who have been found guilty of or admitted to various acts of illegality or impropriety.

        It’s clear you’re trying to have it both ways, “I don’t support the guy at all” but make specious “But Obama did it, too”, when there is simply no comparison possible.

        Meanwhile, we have an actual Trump-signed agreement with Russian interests worth “hundreds of millions” for a cozy real-estate deal that Trump pursued late into the election. And we have Trump paying off various people before the election to keep his dirty business quiet.

        If you’re still confused, check out the names Flynn, Cohen, Manafort, Gates, Papadopoulos, etc.

        I can only imagine what your reaction would have been if Obama was directly implicated in similar deals.

        The hypocrisy is plain.

      • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/08/2019 - 10:26 am.

        Michael Cohen’s conviction process included Trump as “Individual 1,” who directed Cohen’s criminal acts. That makes Trump an unindicted co-conspirator in election fraud. To start with.

        What encourages many of us is that House Democrats, like the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, are beginning to speak of how there is no law preventing indictment of a sitting president. Trump could be indicted for his multiple crimes, and then prosecuted after he left office. That’s a way of proceeding that would silence Mr. Barnes and his cohort, who keep telling us that Trump is as innocent of all crimes as a lamb.

    • Submitted by Gary Fredrickson on 01/07/2019 - 10:51 pm.

      Henk, Interesting you say “I guess his followers don’t listen to any news outlet that might disagree with their view”

      .All anyone has to do is turn on the television to anything but Fox news and they will hear disagreement. The question is do you listen to anyone with differing views. If you never listen to any talk radio or Fox news it is equivalent to sitting in a court room and only hearing the prosecution or only hearing the defense. You only have one side.

      It no longer surprises me, as it once did, when my democrat friends have never heard of some news items that should probably be major scandals for democrats.They never heard of them because they pretty much only read the Minneapolis paper, watch local news and listen to public radio

      .They know about President Trump’s campaign finance violations but never heard about Obama’s violations
      They know the name Stormy Daniels but never heard the name Carlos Danger.
      They are sure about Trump profiting illegally but never heard about millions going to the Clinton foundation from Russian sources and the sale of 20% of the U.S. uranium reserves to the same sources.

      Ever hear the term “projection”?

      • Submitted by Larry Moran on 01/08/2019 - 09:34 am.

        Gary, you’re right. I don’t watch Fox News or listen to talk radio. But then I don’t watch CNN or listen to any talk radio (too many people screaming at me while I’m trying to drive). I think curious people can make their own judgements by gathering information from a variety of sources (both the NYT and the WSJ, for example). I agree that, for the most part, people have retreated to their own corner and only come out to fight. But your evidence for “projection” is a little weak:

        Obama and Trump campaign violations being equal? Obama’s, as far as I have read, were poorly completed forms that were corrected immediately. Trump’s appear to be an active attempt to shield $280,000 in payments to further his campaign.

        I don’t see how Stormy Daniels and Carlos Danger (AKA Anthony Weiner) are in any way similar, except they’re both pretty sleazy. I’d love to see what parallels you see between them. And I don’t think you’d have to look very hard to find a myriad of stories on all sorts of sites (some I wouldn’t admit to visiting) about Anthony Weiner.

        The Uranium One story was reported on twice by the NYT, in great detail. While Fox and Breitbart continue to push the story no one has found direct evidence of a quid pro quo between the Clinton Foundation and the owners of Uranium One. (BTW, US law prohibits the export of any uranium from Uranium One that is mined in the US. So there was no sale of US uranium to the Russians, technically). Finally, 8 US agencies needed to approve the sale (if true, that is one big conspiracy). Trump, on the other hand, has apparently violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution, and pretty obviously at that.

        I can understand the view that Trump is being treated unfairly (though I don’t agree with it). But that doesn’t mean he is innocent of making outlandish and impolitic statements while taking actions that many thoughtful people from both sides of the aisle believe are dangerous. I think we all need to be careful of “projection.”

  7. Submitted by Bill Mantis on 01/07/2019 - 04:47 pm.

    I don’t foresee 60 votes in the Senate until/unless Mueller provides incontrovertible evidence of “high crimes or misdemeanors”, and even then, Trump.has such a hold on his willfully uninformed base, many Republican senators will not risk facing their wrath.

  8. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 01/07/2019 - 06:30 pm.

    I read David Leonhardt’s piece yesterday in the NY Times and was not convinced that he made a case for impeachment of Trump under the evidence known to the public. I don’t think there’s any question that Trump has broken the law- his firing of James Comey and his actions that have at least interfered with the investigation by the Special Counsel strike me as being obstruction of justice. Leonhardt has given a number of reasons for impeaching Trump. But they aren’t enough to “shock the conscience” of the Republicans who’d have to decide whether they justified Trump’s removal if articles of impeachment were passed by the House. The case for impeachment needs to have the kind of evidence that even a Harvard Law Professor could not find some excuse for keeping him in office.

  9. Submitted by david kemp on 01/08/2019 - 09:03 am.

    Someday this presidency will end. Someday between today and six years from now. I wonder what he’ll do to stay in the headlines?

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