I haven’t written for quite some time, primarily because the impetus for this blog and the eventual book I self-published, was religion. Specifically, that religions are false. The premise is false, the histories wildly embellished and in many cases completely fabricated, and the gods we invented are figments of our imaginations. At some point, there’s not much more to say on that topic, and while I could continue to write about the pervasive intrusion of religion into our daily lives, even in the secular republic of the United States, that’s a related topic that doesn’t drive me like showing its basic falseness did. I’ve delved into politics quite often, usually with a religious angle, but I didn’t want to turn the blog into a running political commentary. The current historic nature of what’s occurring in the USA however, has motivated me to lay out the case for removing this President from office, which is a momentus undertaking worthy of capturing a few thoughts on the issue.
The public phase of the impeachment inquiry starts this week, with the witnesses to the President’s actions coming to Congress to testify to what they’ve already stated privately to the members of the House conducting the inquiry. For those of us paying attention, this phase is unnecessary and will likely lead to embarrassing spectacles of grandstanding and obfuscation by the President’s defenders, and honestly, that’s really all they’ve got to run with. The Constitution lays out the reasons for removing a President through impeachment and gives the House of Representatives the power to impeach, with the Senate the power to conduct the trial and ultimately convict or acquit the President of the charges the House impeached him with.
“The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
That simple and clear statement is right in Article I of the Constitution. It makes the arguments that Trump himself and many of his defenders have made; that the impeachment inquiry is illegitimate, nonsensical. It is not only legitimate, it is the specific constitutional action required to be taken when the following takes place:
“The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
That’s from Article II and while seemingly pretty straight forward, the high crimes and misdemeanors are not specifically defined. There’s lots of legal and political thought on the subject though, and we can use this and precedent to fairly clearly establish what is meant by it, and what types of actions the framers of the Constitution thought warranted removing the Chief Executive.
My favorite is from Benjamin Franklin, who wrote that the power of impeachment and removal was necessary for those times when the Executive “rendered himself obnoxious,” and the Constitution should provide for the “regular punishment of the Executive when his conduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused.” I love the idea of removing a President for being obnoxious, but in all fairness, that would probably cause an awful lot of impeaching. James Madison argued that the ability to impeach was an absolute necessity because when you have one executive, it’s all to easy for that person to be corrupt or to lose the ability to function in the role. A “loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic.” Alexander Hamilton stated that impeachment was the response for “those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
If we look at the origins of the phrase, we find that high crimes are committed by people who have taken an oath of office. A person who has been entrusted by the public to operate in their best interests. A high crime can really only be committed by a person in whom authority has been vested. It’s not actually meant to be a high bar requiring an egregious and overt crime, but the exact opposite. In Britain, from where our founders hailed and from whom the bedrock of our legal system was founded, misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, not spending money allocated by Parliament, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, losing a ship by neglecting to moor it, helping “suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament,” granting warrants without cause, and bribery were all high crimes and misdemeanors. But as you can see, not all of them are actually criminal. In fact, there’s no requirement for an actual crime. It’s more a serious case of abuse of power or dereliction of duty.
With that background established, I think the proper way to go about bringing this to the public for their support in the impeachment and removal of this President, is to avoid the subjective nature of a high crime and focus on one of the two specific actions that call for impeachment in the Constitution: Bribery.
Bribery is well defined both in the statutes and in the case law. At its core, bribery involves the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty. A bribe is a gift bestowed to influence the recipient’s conduct.
Let’s look at the facts as we currently have them regarding the President’s actions in the Ukraine “aid for dirt” scandal. The President engaged his alleged personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to make contacts with officials in the Ukraine in an attempt to find evidence supporting a couple of conspiracy theories:
- One, that Ukraine, working with the Democratic National Committee, framed Russia for the interference in the 2016 election. This absurd idea was debunked by all of the intelligence agencies of the United States, and Russia’s election interference was thoroughly investigated and confirmed by those same agencies, and is highlighted in great detail in the Mueller report.
The President is attracted to this particular conspiracy theory because if true, it would show that he won the 2016 election fair and square, without Russian intervention. It would boost his fragile ego and remove the asterisk that exists next to his victory in that election.
- Two, that former Vice President Joe Biden had corrupt, self-enriching dealings in the Ukraine that included getting his son Hunter on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company so the Biden family could somehow enrich themselves through his actions.
The President is attracted to this particular conspiracy theory because it would smear his most potent political rival going into the 2020 presidential election cycle as Trump seeks another term in office.
Using the State Department and the Department of Energy, Trump sought to have the newly elected President of Ukraine to publicly announce that the Ukrainian government would immediately begin an investigation into the Biden family for corruption, and that they would investigate the 2016 election interference that allegedly was done by the previous Ukrainian administration. In exchange for doing this, President Trump would provide the $391 Million dollars in military aid that had already been approved by Congress, but which Trump had ordered withheld. Trump would also have the new Ukrainian President to the White House for an official visit.
That, faithful readers, is bribery. It is not just conduct unbecoming the Chief Executive. It’s not just Trump rendering himself obnoxious, which arguably is something he does on a regular basis. It clearly rises to the standard of a high crime, but I think if Congress focused on bribery, with it being one of the specific impeachable offenses, you would remove one of the arguments currently being floated by Trump’s defenders; that what he did was inappropriate, but doesn’t rise to impeachable conduct. That argument vanishes if bribery can be clearly established, which I think is fairly easy to do.
The bribe was the gift Trump would bestow upon the Ukrainian President: releasing the money Congress had approved, and inviting the Ukrainian to the White House for an official state visit. In exchange, Trump would receive something of personal value to him. Assistance in his upcoming election by dirtying up his main political rival, and removing the stain of Russian assistance in getting him elected in the first place.
When the Articles of Impeachment are drawn up, of course the House can include Trump’s obstruction of Congress in his refusal to cooperate, but that sounds like political infighting and the American public probably won’t get too up in arms about it. Serious minded people realize the danger in an administration deeming itself above Congress and their right to oversee the actions of the Executive, but for a real outpouring of public anger and outrage at Trump’s conduct, establishing the crime of bribery will rally everyone who believes in truth and justice.
Trump will be impeached; that seems an almost inevitable outcome. But the trial in the Senate is less certain. I think it would be a more difficult task to acquit the President of bribery than it would be of the more nebulous high crime and misdemeanor. As many professional prosecutors have already declared on various cable news programs, they’d love to have this fact pattern and these witnesses to take their bribery case to the jury. May justice prevail, and may the Republic survive this assault on its integrity and begin the process of restoring law and order at the highest levels of our self-governing system. As Madison warned, corruption by the Chief Executive might be fatal to the Republic, and if this Executive is allowed to declare himself above the laws, to continue in his flagrant abuses of power, and manages somehow to secure another 4 years at the helm, that may be the lethal injection that ends our run of democracy and ushers in a new era of autocracy and tyranny.