Impeachment Sidebar: High Crimes and Misdemeanors

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In the third installment of Adjunct Professor Jerry Goldfeder‘s Impeachment Sidebar, Goldfeder examines the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” and how it was used in the current impeachment.

Ever since President Trump’s phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky became public, the House has inexorably moved toward exercising its impeachment power once again. Although they were stymied by the President’s direction to subpoenaed fact-witnesses not to appear and to agencies not to produce subpoenaed documents, a majority of Congress members determined they had sufficient evidence to find the President had committed impeachable offenses.

To the Founders, and to the House of Representatives during the four presidential impeachment inquiries, high crimes and misdemeanors has generally been understood as encompassing an abuse of power; a betrayal of or threat to our constitutional republic; a corruption of the office of the presidency or subversion of our electoral process; or improper foreign entanglements. There has been almost universal agreement that a specific criminal act is not necessary to find an impeachable offense.

In the current impeachment, President Trump is charged with having directly, and through his agents, abused his power as President by soliciting a foreign government to compromise a domestic political opponent for his own personal political benefit, thus intentionally and corruptly undermining our free and fair democratic elections, and, in so doing, injuring our national security interests. He was also impeached for obstructing Congress’s sole power to investigate impeachable offenses. As such, he was impeached for acting “in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”

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