Should Congress Try to Impeach President Trump?

Should Congress Try to Impeach President Trump?

In “Is Obstruction an Impeachable Offense? History Says Yes,” Adam Liptak tries to respond to the first question:

President Trump has been consulting the Constitution. In a Twitter post on Monday, he recited part of Article II, Section 4, the provision that allows Congress to remove federal officials who commit “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Mr. Trump wrote that he had done none of those things: “There were no crimes by me (No Collusion, No Obstruction), so you can’t impeach.”

The president’s analysis had two shortcomings. It misstated the conclusion of the report issued by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, which made no definitive judgment about whether Mr. Trump had violated criminal laws concerning obstruction of justice. And it failed to take account of what the framers meant by “other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The phrase is vague, of course, but it plainly does not encompass every ordinary crime. Rather, it follows two offenses that give a good sense of the kinds of crimes the framers had in mind: treason and bribery. Those are crimes against the state and the justice system that undermine the ability of the government to function.

Constitutional scholars say that similar offenses — ones involving the lawless use of official power threatening the constitutional order — are what the framers thought could justify removal from office.

Does Mr. Trump’s conduct, as described in the Mueller report, clear that high bar? The two most recent impeachment proceedings, against Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton, indicate that it could.

The articles of impeachment in both cases identified one sort of presidential conduct that the Constitution cannot tolerate: the corrupt use of power to frustrate lawful investigations.

“The Nixon and Clinton cases prove beyond a shadow of the doubt that obstruction of justice can qualify as a ‘high crime and misdemeanor,’” said Joshua Matz, an author, with Laurence H. Tribe, of “To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.”

Frank O. Bowman III, a law professor at the University of Missouri and the author of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump,” to be published this summer, said the Nixon and Clinton cases were informative.

“The historical comparisons make out a solid case for an article of impeachment against Trump for obstruction of justice in both the technical legal sense and in the more general sense of an attempt to subvert American legal process and institutions,” Mr. Bowman said.

In “Divided on Impeachment, Democrats Wrestle With Duty and Politics,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos address the second question. They write about the growing divide in Congress between those who say yes to impeachment and those who say no:

As Speaker Nancy Pelosi urges caution on impeachment, rank-and-file House Democrats are agonizing over the prospect of ousting President Trump, caught between their sense of historic responsibilities and political considerations in the wake of the special counsel’s damning portrait of abuses.

Some feel a sense of duty to pursue impeachment:

“A realization is setting in that this moment has found us,” said Representative Jared Huffman, a fourth-term Democrat from Northern California, who is advocating impeachment. “We cannot ignore it. We cannot wish it away. For some, this may be a very, very difficult matter. But this is why we have a House of Representatives. And this is absolutely what our founders imagined when a president did these sorts of things.”

But moderate Democrats, including Ms. Pelosi, are urging a more cautious approach:

“The media just wants a thumbs up or thumbs down, pro-impeachment or not,” Mr. Raskin said. “They don’t appreciate this is a process, an instrument in the Constitution that is the people’s last defense against a president trampling the rule of law and acting like a king. But it is a process, and it is meant to be a process.”

Mr. Raskin said he believes that the obstruction outlined in Mr. Mueller’s report constitutes impeachable offenses, but he is not yet convinced they warrant proceeding with an impeachment. He urged Democrats to build an independent and full record for the public of what had occurred, rather than relying entirely on the Mueller report as Republicans relied on the Starr Report to impeach Mr. Clinton.

Removing a president from office requires bipartisan buy-in and the acceptance of the American people, as was the case with Richard M. Nixon but not Mr. Clinton. Congress undertook months of hearings on Watergate, beginning in May 1973, before threatening Nixon with impeachment in the summer of 1974. By that time, about two thirds of the American people believed he had participated in the Watergate cover-up.

“If you look at history, articles of impeachment were considered in the House of Representatives two weeks before Richard Nixon resigned; all the rest happened before that,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky, a liberal Democrat from a safe seat in Illinois. “By the time that decision was made to go to articles of impeachment, the American people had heard it all and were persuaded.”

Ms. Pelosi and her leadership team appear to be following the Nixon model. The House Judiciary Committee has already issued a subpoena to compel the Justice Department to produce an unredacted copy of the Mueller report and all the evidence his investigation collected so Congress can begin sifting through it.

Still, others are worried about the precedent that not pursuing impeachment may set for future presidents:

Mr. Huffman and Ms. Waters have urged colleagues to grapple with the implications of failing to act: What if they choose not to try to impeach a president who had been all but accused by the special counsel of obstructing justice and is an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal campaign finance felony in New York?

“If that president cannot face impeachment, then part of our constitutional responsibility is just a bunch of dead words,” Mr. Huffman said. “I think that is pretty bad for the country. I think it invites abuse from this president for the next year and a half. I think it sets a terrible precedent that will be abused by future president. And we can’t take that lightly.”

Students, read both articles, then tell us:

— Ms. Stolberg and Mr. Fandos note, “The founders left the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors — the criteria for impeachment, along with more specific offenses like treason and bribery — open to interpretation.” And they point out that these offenses do not necessarily have to be crimes to warrant impeachment and that “in the past noncriminal acts have been so defined.”

In your opinion, do any of Mr. Trump’s actions rise to the level of impeachable offenses? If so, which ones and why? If not, why not?

— How do the accusations against Mr. Trump compare to those against Mr. Nixon and Mr. Clinton? If Congress tried to impeach those two previous presidents, does that mean it should also try to impeach Mr. Trump? Why or why not?

— What do you think about Ms. Pelosi’s “go-slow” approach to impeachment proceedings? At this time, do you think Congress has enough evidence to proceed with impeachment? Or should it continue its own investigations before considering impeachment?

— In a recent interview, Ms. Pelosi said:

“Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country,” she added. “And he’s just not worth it.”

Do you agree with this statement? Do you believe impeachment proceedings that are likely to fail in a Republican-controlled Senate are “worth it”? Why or why not?

— Others have argued that not pursuing impeachment sets up a dangerous precedent for future presidents. To what extent do you agree with this line of thinking? Explain your reasoning.

— Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who is the majority leader, told reporters that he thought “it’s time to move on” because Mr. Mueller found no collusion and no charges had been brought against Mr. Trump. Democrats are also worried about getting distracted from other issues voters sent them to Washington to address, like health care and jobs. Do you think it’s time for Congress to drop its investigations of Mr. Trump and “move on”?

— With all this in mind, do you believe Congress should try to impeach Mr. Trump? Why or why not? What other arguments for or against impeachment not laid out in these articles can you think of to support your opinion?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.