AP Analysis: It Doesn’t Take A Crime To Impeach A President

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President Donald Trump pauses to talk as he leaves a ceremony with members of law enforcement on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. The president was given a plaque of appreciation from America's Sheriffs and Angel Families. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON  — If House Democrats press ahead with impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, their case will rest in large part on the claim that he sought a foreign government’s help, with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid in the balance, to dig up dirt on a political opponent to boost his reelection campaign.

But, if true, would that be a crime? The answer might not matter. It doesn’t take a criminal act to impeach a president.

The Constitution’s standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for impeachment is vague and open-ended to encompass abuses of power even if they aren’t, strictly speaking, illegal, legal scholars say.

The controversy centers on a summertime phone call in which Trump asked the president of Ukraine to help investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden, according to a transcript the White House provided on Wednesday. A whistleblower’s complaint released Thursday alleged a concerted White House effort to suppress the transcript of the call and described a shadow campaign of diplomacy by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

The Justice Department doesn’t think Trump violated any laws in his July 25 conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said, “I think we ought to go through the process. I mean, no one has shown me what law has been broken.”

But the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., described several potential crimes that could have been committed if Trump withheld “authorized funding of Congress to use as leverage, if the president were involved in somehow extorting a foreign nation to dig up or manufactured dirt on his opponent, if there was an effort to cover up any of this conduct.”

Both Schiff and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called Trump’s actions a “shakedown.”

The Constitution provides for the impeachment and removal of the president, and other officers of the government, for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The first two offenses are relatively easy to understand, but “high crimes and misdemeanors” is hard to define.

“It’s meant to convey the idea that the person has badly flouted the terms of office. Even if he didn’t commit a criminal offense, did he do something that constitutes an abuse of power?” said Corey Brettschneider, a political science professor at Brown University.

In 1970, then-House Republican leader Gerald Ford, defined an impeachable offense as “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives” would vote for.

Ford’s description may have been technically accurate — it takes a majority vote in the House to impeach — but many legal scholars find what Ford said too nakedly political and not in accord with U.S. history.

On the other hand, the burden of proof in impeachment is, despite the term “high crimes,” lower than the standard in criminal cases, which is beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defenders of the president in past impeachments typically made the argument that the House shouldn’t impeach unless the president has committed a crime, said Frank Bowman III, a University of Missouri law professor and author of “A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump.”

“The argument has a lot of resonance with people. It seems almost commonsensically right,” but it has not been the case in more than 600 years of English and American law, Bowman said.

Bowman said Trump’s actions illustrate his point. “You don’t impeach the guy because he violated a fairly technical election statute. You impeach him because he extorted a foreign country into giving him political help,” he said.

In the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, Republicans who controlled the House impeached Clinton on the charges of obstructing justice and lying to a grand jury in connection with his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. But when the Senate held a trial on those charges, 10 Republicans joined Democrats to acquit Clinton on one count and five Republicans voted to acquit on the other.

Republicans never succeeded in convincing a majority of the country that their pursuit of Clinton was not partisan or that the misconduct he was accused of, essentially lying about an affair, was serious enough to warrant his removal from office.

By contrast, in 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee voted for three articles of impeachment against him for obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. Congressional Republicans, who had largely supported Nixon in the early days of the Watergate investigation, made clear they would not stand by him after the release of recordings revealed his role in trying to cover up the break-in at the Democratic Party’s headquarters that sparked the scandal.

At this point, it seems far-fetched to think that the impeachment of Trump in the Democratic-controlled House would lead to his removal by a two-thirds vote of the Republican-led Senate. That would require 20 Republican senators to vote to oust him — an unlikely prospect, crime or no crime. (AP)

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22 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you AP for your genuis analysis . We don’t really care what the fake news calls an impeachable offense . Not do we care what some lying liberal so called professor interprets. Us republicans ain’t removing the man from office unless there is a major crime . It’s too bad but we get the last word . Mark my words trump ain’t getting removed . Dream on .

    You dems are like the guy who cried wolf . Now you impeach ?

  2. Us Republicans? Nixon had 70% support at the start of the impeachment. At the end he was down to 30%. Trump is starting at 39% he will get to near 0 by the time this is finished. Most of his enemies are Republicans as you well know. In less than 3 days Republican Senators, Governors, Congressman etc turned against him. His Republican challenger for the Republican nomination for POTUS 2020 called him a Traitor.Wake up. A Life time Republican Governor who is running for the Republican nomination is calling him a Traitor to the USA. Dont forget that Nixon resigned the day after The Republicans walked into his office and told him the facts. Nixon made some bad judgement but no one Republicans or Democrats called him a Traitor.

    • Bla bla bla you have been saying the same stupidty for 3 years already. Trump had never trump republicans against him from the gettgo. You seem to have a very good long term old memory about nixon but short term about trump. After billi bush, after every obnoxious comment he has stated at rallies or tweeted, after collusion there were Republicans out to get him. Thats different than Nixon. Even Commey was a life long Republican. Yet he continues to prevail. What makes you think this time he won’t prevail? You are like the boy who cries wolf. But keep on dreaming yoni

      Two side notes,
      1) Nixon I do’t believe would have ended up getting removed.
      2) These republcians currently against trump are nobody’s. some random governor or challenger that has almost 0% support? Thats who yo call “republcains” anti trump? In prior years at least you had McCain etc… He was a states man, senator and serious presidential candidate. Who do you have now?

      • Who do you have now? Romney for a start (Its only day 4 today) FYI Romney is even stronger than McCain (Got more votes against Obama) who “was a Statesman” in your own admission. Nixon? He was way more popular than Trump at this point (Year 3) Yoni? Are you getting senile? Yesterday you already realized its the Yingele from N.Dakota.

  3. None of this matters unless they can demonstrate a quid pro quo. Even if a crime was committed, as it seems to have been, you’re going to need very clear evidence of a tradeoff before his voters turn against him

    • There is no need to commit a crime to Impeach a President. Please watch Senator Graham on the Clinton hearings in 1999. Its just a click away. Dont forget where usually this leads. Nixon started with a simple brake in he had nothing to do with, Bill Clinton started with a bogus Whitewater and lead to Monica, Hillary started with Benghazi and developed to Emails. This start is way way more serious. It will take years like they always do. Just relax, sit back and enjoy the show.

  4. For those with a limited (cheder) education the way this works is
    1. Impeachment hearings gather evidence
    2. Impeachment trial
    3.Aquittal or removal from office.
    Only Andrew Johnson and Billy Clinton went through the Impeachment trial and both were aquitted. Sicky Dick Nixon (best friend of Rabbi Korff) resigned in disgrace before his Impeachment trial started since he knew he was going to be found GUILTY. And so far NO ONE has come forward defending Trump’s self-serving , illegal and unethical actions and crimes.

    • 1)Nixon should have never resirned. he was not sick at all despite your babiesh nicknames. He was one of the best presidents as you yourself stated. He had a very high approval ratting. the dems couldn’t fargin him so they brought him down. Its was farce. It ruined our country for years to come with the peanut farmer etc.. Only Reagan fixed it.

      2) Trump may make it to #2 above but #3 will never happen. We don’t need to offend him against a whitchhunt. he may be doing small illegal stuff but we don’t care. We the people voted for him despite knowing his shtick

      • Educated: Tricky Dick Nixon was a crook and he was behind a crime and coverup.

        Donald Trump is a crook and has committed numerous crimes mingling business interests, partisan politics and government together. He has consistently lied and refused to testify in person before the Mueller investigators because he was afraid with his lies he would be charged with perjury. Having his personal lawyer meet with Ukrainian government officials is certainly problematic as well as his insistence that transcripts of routine calls be placed with top secret files in an apparent effort to hide something.

        All thinking Republicans will consider on his criminal actions in deciding if what he has done is worthy of impeachment. His approval rating and wall don’t matter if he violated the law. Criminals have no place in our Republican party. It’s high time to save what’s left of the Party bu putting country before politics.

        Would you oppose impeachment if the case is proven?

        • 1) You really don’t support Regean either. You are full of it.
          2) Nixon was no crook and all your silly name calling together with spamming of VIN via using multiple screen names won’t convince me.
          3) What makes someone a crook? Like whats your bar exaclty?
          4) Even if one is a crook unless ist extremely damaging to the public let him do his job. especially someone like Nixon who had Unanimous support in 72 winning 49 states. He was a great president and you can scold him but let him do his job Even if not kosher
          5) #4 leads to #5. Yes I oppose his impecahement or removal even if the case is proven. Why? two reasons.
          a) they are all crooks anyhow. Just Biden is smoother and knows how to outsmart the “ethics boards”.
          b) I am Ok with a crook in charge. We need a crazy perosn like trump to rip apart DC. If that means a crook so be it. Its wroth it to have a guy like trump. And when we lected him we all knew we are not electing the most ethical person

      • “We the People” ?? Funny. He lost to We the People by 3 million votes and 2 years later by 7 million votes. 2020 at this rate is more like 12-15 million votes. No electorate shticks, Russian interference and old fashioned fraud by the Republicans as we witnessed in No Carolina is going to help. What I like the most about our country and we the people that even The POTUS could not do anything about the Fraud in NC. We the People are mostly honest hard working Americans and that includes most Republicans.

        • 1) the rules were electorial and thats how he campaigned. You have no proof that had the rules been popular he wouldn’t have won that too. you can’t come with a cheap change the rules argument after the fact.
          2) Almost all countries don’t work with popular vote. Look at Israel the PM doesn’t go by popular vote either.
          3)Let’ s see what happens in 2020 but so far this Ukriane thing helps. It will be a forever wound on Sleepy joe. His name is now tarnished. meanwhile for the trump team you energized the base.

          Russia if you are listening please hack Biden’s email

  5. Breaking: John Solomon Has Documents That Prove Joe Biden’s Extortion Prevented Ukrainian Officials From Indicting His Son Hunter Biden
    (Gateway Pundit) – Investigative journalist John Solomon told Sean Hannity on Wednesday night that he has over 400 pages of documents that he will reveal tomorrow that show Hunter Biden’s legal team worked with the Ukrainian prosecutors to end the investigation on the vice president’s son.
    Joe Biden famously bragged on video how he had the investigator looking at his son’s Ukrainian gas deals to be fired.
    Solomon says his news story is hitting tomorrow afternoon and it’s going to strongly dispute Joe Biden’s claim of why he got the Ukrainian top prosecutor fired.
    Solomon will release the documents on Thursday that implicate Joe Biden in the Ukrainian scandal.

  6. Archy, either you were on another planet, or in diapers 45 years ago, in 1974, and hence, didn’t pay attention to current events, at the time. Senator Barry Goldwater, who was as conservative as they came, personally met with Nixon after he was impeached, and told him that there wasn’t enough Republican support in the U.S. Senate, to prevent his conviction. Hence, Nixon had no choice but to resign. Sen.Goldwater privately remarked that “tricky Dick, has pulled his last trick”.
    Regarding the present occupant of the White House, assuming that he is cleared by the U.S. Senate, after being impeached by the House of Representatives, how will it look on his resume, when he runs for reelection? In 1868, when President Andrew Johnson was impeached, he was cleared in the Senate by one vote. However, he party refused to nominate him to run for a second term, and he was forced to leave office after one term. Also, you seem to feel that if Trump is impeached, it “will energize his base and others to support him”. I don’t think so; as President Abraham Lincoln once brilliantly stated “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people, all of the time”.

    • You were in diapers too when nixon was impeached so don’t sell me buba mases. Goldwater was old potatoes by then after being crushed in election a decade before that.

      We surely both were not alive under Johnson. But times have changed. Look aroud and you’ll see we are angrier and madder than ever. trump deifes all odds. the more you attack him the more we support him. That’s just the trump factor. And you think that after 3 years of nonsense impecahemnet talks that this isn’t the boy who cried wolf?

  7. Archy, correction, President Richard Nixon was never impeached; on July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommended impeachment. However, their recommendation never went to the full Housee for a floor vote. It is true that Nixon might never have been impeached, if his public tapes were never revealed. For months, Nixon kept stating that he would release his tapes, only upon “a definitive ruling by the Supreme Court”. To this date, nobody knows what he meant by “a definitive ruling”. In fact, the Supreme Court ruled shortly before Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974, that “you will turn over those tapes”. The tapes revealed a complete coverup. Whereas Nixon may not have ordered the Watergate burglary, the tapes revealed that he was complicit in its coverup. If he had come clean with the public, the investigators, and cooperated with Congress, he probably would have survived the Watergate scandal, and could have continued for the two and a half years, which remained in his second term. However, he thumbed his nose at Congress, and lied to the American people, about his complicity in the coverup. Unfortunately, as the saying goes “history repeats itself”. We see the present occupant of the White House, essentially doing the same thing. The most astonishing thing is that Nixon liked Trump. Nearly forty years ago, Pat Nixon saw Trump being interviewed on television, and told her husband, how impressed she was with him. Nixon sent a letter to Trump, stating that he should run for political office. Trump in turn donated that letter to the Nixon library.
    run for political office. Trump donated that letter to the Nixon library. As far as I know, the two of them never met. However, I’ve seen a photo of Trump with Reagan. Incidentally, I saw Nixon, in 1968, in Manhattan, was he was campaigning for President. He waved to us, with that characteristic grin.

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