Was what he did really so bad? And even if it was bad – was it truly impeachable?
As Democrats hit the gas on impeachment this week, Donald Trump exhorted Republicans to defend him on the substance of his actions in the Ukraine scandal, instead of sniping about the process.
“Rupublicans [sic],” Trump tweeted “go with Substance and close it out!”
Trump’s misconduct, critics say, includes using the power of the presidency to solicit foreign intervention in the 2020 US election, by trying to force Ukraine to help conduct a political hit on Joe Biden.
Trump denies all wrongdoing and most of his defenders do too. But there is a (slightly) subtler version of Trump defense that Republicans are trying out which says that while Trump’s conduct has not been irreproachable, neither has it been impeachable.
The argument, according to constitutional experts and historians of impeachment, is not a strong one. In fact, Trump’s conduct, according to analysts interviewed by the Guardian, hews more closely than any previous conduct by any other president to what scholars conceive as a concrete example of impeachable behavior.
Frank O Bowman III, author of High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump and a professor at the University of Missouri school of law, said that Trump’s having extorted actions with no legitimate US national purpose from a foreign country that is “literally at risk of losing its political and territorial independence” without US support was impeachable.
“It’s plainly an abuse of power, and it’s plainly impeachable,” Bowman said.
“I think these are quite clearly, precisely the type of high crimes and misdemeanors that the founders not only feared but actually discussed at the constitutional convention,” said Jeffrey A Engel, co-author of Impeachment: An American History and director of the center for presidential history at Southern Methodist University.
“The high crime is the trade – give me dirt on Joe Biden and his son, and I’ll give you in return military aid and help with your economy – I think that is certainly impeachable,” said Corey Brettschneider, author of The Oath and the Office: A Guide to the Constitution for Future Presidents and a professor of constitutional law at Brown University.
Many are finding defending Trump difficult at the moment. Republican lawmakers spent Thursday fleeing reporters trying to ask the question, “Do you think it’s OK for the president to pressure foreign governments to interfere in our elections?”. One lawmaker even headbutted a camera rather than reply.
The reason Trump’s alleged conduct is plainly impeachable, historians say, has to do with US impeachment precedent and with what the authors of the US constitution meant when they provisioned impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanors”.
“If we look at history both British and American – and it’s important to look at British history, because our Framers were of course rebel Englishmen and they adopted the phrase ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ in full recognition of the fact that that was a parliamentary term of art, and that therefore they were adopting to some degree, by reference, previous usages of that term – all of that leads to really the inescapable conclusion that one of the grounds for impeachment has always been abuse of power,” said Bowman.
Source: Experts on Trump’s conduct: ‘Plainly an abuse of power, plainly impeachable’ | US news | The Guardian