Alexander Hamilton, the great expositor of the Constitution, wrote that impeachment will “proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” It is time for an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump by the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives.
Impeachment does not necessarily require proof of an indictable crime, but turns on abuses of power. The House, which has the sole responsibility for impeachment, impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868 for violating a civil statute, the Tenure of Office Act. The House also impeached President Bill Clinton for alleged crimes that were unrelated to his duties as president. And it has impeached federal judges for transgressions other than criminal acts and for offenses prior to assuming the bench.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s closed-door investigation may corroborate what is now known and expose new offenses, such as money laundering or tax fraud, but such investigations typically drag on for many months or even years. During Watergate, a criminal investigation by a special prosecutor proceeded simultaneously with an eight-month impeachment investigation by the Judiciary Committee. There are, right now, several clearly visible, publicly reported justifications for an impeachment investigation:
Obstruction of Justice
Trump delayed firing National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a principal in the Russia investigation, for 18 days after the Acting Attorney General warned that the Russians had likely compromised Flynn.
Trump’s White House colluded with House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes to quash the Committee’s Russia investigation. The collusion was so blatant that Nunes recused himself from leading the investigation.
Trump asked America’s top two intelligence officials to influence the FBI to back off the Russia investigation. Former FBI director James Comey testified under oath that Trump asked him for personal loyalty and to “let go” of the Flynn investigation. Trump then fired Comey and later admitted he had “Russia on his mind” in doing so.
Trump participated in drafting a misleading statement about the June 9, 2016, meeting between Russians connected to the Kremlin and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 unanimously adopted the Emoluments Clause to prohibit — absent congressional authorization — federal officials, including the president, from receiving anything of value from foreign governments and their agents. The prohibition is absolute; no quid pro quo is required to trigger a violation.
By failing to follow the practice of past presidents and divest himself from his private business interests, Trump has likely violated this constitutional stricture, the remedy for which is impeachment. In June 2017, China gave preliminary approval to nine potentially lucrative Trump trademarks that it had previously rejected. Trump has also secured trademarks from Mexico, and his Washington, D.C., hotel, which has become a magnet for foreign interests, gained $270,000 in spending by lobbyists working for Saudi Arabia.
Collusion with Russia
The response by Trump and his team to the Russia investigations bears the hallmarks of a Nixon-style cover-up. First conceal, lie, and deny, and then, when publicly outed, say that any communications with Russians were innocuous, or incidental — like the claim that Watergate was just a “third-rate burglary.”
Numerous contacts between the Trump campaign team and the Russians have yet to be fully explained, including the June 9 meeting, initiated by an e-mail promising dirt on Hillary Clinton from government-connected Russians. What’s more, despite claims to the contrary, during the campaign, Trump’s business sought to conclude a deal for developing a massive Trump Tower in Moscow.
Even a Republican-controlled House might pursue an impeachment investigation if GOP members in contested districts believe that the president threatens their reelection in 2018. It would only take about two-dozen Republicans, just 10 percent of their House delegation, to join with Democrats to form a House majority. The president has troubled relations with congressional Republicans who might prefer the predictable Mike Pence to the loose cannon Donald Trump.
During Watergate, about a third of Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted for at least one article of impeachment against Richard Nixon. Beyond hard politics, it is time again for Republicans to choose patriotism above party and vote for a most necessary impeachment investigation.
Allan J. Lichtman is a distinguished professor of history at American University and author of “The Case for Impeachment.”