Difference between impeachable and criminal offenses
Received Jan. 9
My friend, Jay Gaskill, a learned man, writes to point out our differences about President Trump’s view of executive power. Fair enough. Trump’s belief that he should be able to direct the actions of the justice department, ordering investigations of his political opponents and treating the White House Counsel and the U.S. Attorney General as if they existed to serve as his personal consigliere, is sufficient to demonstrate his contempt for the rule of law.
Happily, Jay and I agree on a point of fundamental importance to constitutional government. Impeachment of a president should not be made a substitute for the outcome of an election. The Framers of the Constitution were adamant about that.
Jay has indulged an erroneous view in stating that impeachment should be reserved for those instances in which there is well-defined illegal conduct.
The Framers, as I have pointed out in these pages, created the power of impeachment to punish “political,” not “criminal offenses.” While a president might be impeached for the commission of a serious crime, the Framers’ criteria for impeachment did not include criminal acts, leaving punishment of such infractions to the criminal justice system.
The Framers were concerned about great “political” offenses that rocked the foundation of the nation, including treason, bribery, usurpation, corruption, subversion and, as James Madison emphasized, betrayal of “his trust to a foreign power.” A president’s decision to fire officials or to grant pardons to thwart an investigation into his administration would warrant impeachment according to the Framers’ own determinations. (Word count: 250)