Proper Grounds for Impeachment

Those of us who perceive the Trump administration as a moral disaster naturally yearn for the remedy of impeachment. Even granting the unlikelihood of impeachment proceedings beginning in a GOP-led Congress, the case for forced removal from office feels strong.

We can’t get ahead of ourselves. According to Noah Feldman and Jacob Weisberg’s excellent recent article “What are Impeachable Offenses?”, some grounds for impeachment of the President are better than others. Generally appalling behavior (“grab ’em by the pussy,” stiffing contractors) does not qualify, especially since that behavior occurred prior to Trump’s taking office.

On the other hand, the President is reaping profits from his businesses while in office. Given that he heads the Executive Branch, which administers federal laws that affect business operations, this is a prima facie conflict of interest. More germane for our purposes, though, is the fact that many foreign heads of state now stay in Trump hotels. This direct financial gain to the President appears to run afoul of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, and could be grounds for impeachment.

Another potential ground for impeachment is obstruction of justice. It will be hard to definitively untangle how much members of the President’s campaign colluded with Russia in 2016, if they did so at all. What we do know is that the President fired James Comey and has made noises about also firing Robert Mueller. Comey was investigating the Trump team’s ties to Russia, and Mueller has a broad mandate that allows him to do the same. This presents a strong circumstantial case for obstruction of justice, but it would need to be proven to warrant impeachment.

That is the main lesson here — take it slow, don’t over-reach without facts, and only go for impeachment once the facts truly warrant it. As Feldman and Weisberg note, impeachment over policy disagreements is no way to run a country even if those disagreements cut deep. Although the President has no problem with violating norms and disgracing himself, his opponents should not stoop to his level.