Impeachment without a crime

The House has voted to impeach President Trump. The historical significance of this event lies mainly in the fact that, until now, no president has been impeached without some allegation in an article of impeachment that he committed a crime. This was also the first impeachment proceeding that had no support in the House from a single member of the president’s party.

Legal scholars disagree as to whether impeachment requires a crime. However, the Constitution provides that impeachment of a president is to be for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” I find it hard to read this language as permitting impeachment in the absence of the two crimes specified or another significant crime.

Moreover, as Ted Cruz pointed out during a discussion at the Heritage Foundation earlier this week, the framers of the Constitution rejected a draft that called for impeachment for “corruption,” as well as a draft that called for it in cases of “maladministration.”

It seems to me that the Democrats have impeached Trump for some combination (as they see it) of corruption and maladministration.

For purposes of housekeeping, let’s take a look at the vote. On the first article of impeachment — for “abuse of power” — it was 230 to 197. Two Democrats — Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — voted against impeachment. No Republican voted for impeachment, but ex-Republican Justin Amash of Michigan, now an independent, did.

Tulsi Gabbard took a page from the Barack Obama playbook and voted “present.”

The second article called for Trump to be impeached for exercising his right to have a dispute with Congress resolved by the courts. The vote on this absurdity was 229 to 198. Jared Golden of Maine was the Democrat who voted for the first article but not the second.

The Washington Post celebrates the impeachment by claiming that the House’s purely partisan move “creat[es] an indelible stain on [Trump’s] presidency.” I doubt it.

Trump is the third president in the past 45 years to have gone through impeachment proceedings, and the third of the last eight elected presidents to experience this. The proportion of such presidents is likely to increase during the next half century.

Impeachment isn’t what it used to be. In fact, absent conviction by the Senate, it’s no longer very much at all.

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