Impeachment

IMPEACHMENT 

From the Capital Times, by John Nichols

Impeachment is not a legal mechanism. It is a political act. The founders intentionally employed the catch-all phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” to give guardians of the American experiment leeway for holding presidents, vice presidents, Cabinet members and other errant officials to account. An impeached official is not charged by a prosecutor and tried in the courts; nor is he or she jailed or fined if found guilty. An impeached official is charged by the House of Representatives, tried by the Senate, and removed from office if convicted.

This is a sufficient remedy, as the point of impeachment is to protect the republic, preserve the rule of law, maintain proper checks and balances, and respect the U.S. Constitution.

Congressman Mark Pocan, D-town of Vermont, recognizes these basic premises of the American experiment. And as he has begun talking about impeachment, Pocan has spoken, as every member of Congress should, with an eye toward “keeping open every option for getting this administration to function like any other administration in the past — Democrat or Republican.”

“Clearly,” Pocan told the House earlier this month, “one of those remedies is the power of impeachment.”

The Trump White House is rattled by any criticism, any expression of dissent. So it should come as no surprise that Trump aides are quick to attack the very mention of impeachment as “extreme rhetoric from a completely out-of-touch party.”

But there is nothing extreme about noting that impeachment — which is outlined in considerable detail in the U.S. Constitution, and which was well considered by the founders when they established the framework for the republic — was fashioned as a tool for holding presidents to account.

When Pocan went to the floor of the House Feb. 2, the Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair raised the issue of impeachment calmly, thoughtfully and with respect for a separation of powers commitment that demands vigilance on the part of legislators from both parties.

Using a map of the Middle East to illustrate “another round of questions about President Trump’s potential conflicts of interest over his business holdings,” Pocan pointed to the countries that were targeted by Trump’s executive order restricting travel from predominantly Muslim countries.

“These seven countries do have at least one thing in common,” he noted. “According to Bloomberg News, the Trump Organization does not have business or pursued business deals in any of them.”

In contrast, he explained, Muslim-majority countries where the Trump Organization has had development projects and licensing deals — such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and possibly Egypt — were not included in the presidential executive order. “These countries were excluded from the executive order despite being home to many of the terrorists who carried out 9/11,” the congressman told the House.

“I’m not saying we should ban people from these countries,” Pocan was quick to add. “I firmly oppose any ban based on nationality or religion. But it is unacceptable that business interests have played potentially a role in such a destructive policy, a policy that also makes our country less safe in the long run.”

What Pocan was saying is this: “It’s time for the president to stop defending his divisive and unconstitutional executive order and start being transparent about his business interests. Every president in the modern era has released tax records to ensure the American people that their actions will not be impacted by financial holdings.”

Focusing on concerns about the president’s potential violations of the U.S. Constitution’s emoluments clause, Pocan described instances where Trump has disregarded safeguards “designed to prevent corruption and foreign influence over policy decisions.”

“These are just tip-of-the-iceberg examples of direct conflicts in both domestic and foreign policy under this president,” said Pocan, who addressed Trump directly when he said: “Mr. President, it’s time for you to fix this. One, divest your business holdings immediately to remove any suggestion of conflicts in your decision-making. Two, show us your tax returns so financial interests are transparent to the American people. And three, get rid of your unconstitutional executive order, which will make us less safe and only serve to embolden our enemies.”

The congressman concluded by noting the duty of the legislative branch to check and balance wrongdoing by the executive branch.

Should the president fail to address potential conflicts and embrace necessary transparency, Pocan said, “we’ll have to take other actions, including legislative directives, resolutions of disapproval and even explore the power of impeachment.”

There are plenty of Americans who have been inspired by Trump’s excesses and abuses to explore the power of impeachment as a constitutionally defined tool for holding presidents to account.

Forty-six percent of registered voters surveyed by Public Policy Polling last week indicated that they favor Trump’s impeachment, while 9 percent refused to rule out the prospect. (“The public is already there …,” Pocan told “The Bill Press Show” last week. “Clearly, this is something the public wants us to keep available if necessary.”)

John Bonifaz, the constitutional lawyer who serves as president of the group Free Speech for People, argued that “there must be an impeachment investigation initiated in the United States Congress based on the violations of the emoluments clauses, the foreign emoluments clause and the domestic emoluments clause, both of which make clear that the president of the United States cannot engage in the kind of corruption that we’re seeing now of the Oval Office.” More than 850,000 Americans have signed petitions supporting this argument.

Pocan has put Trump on notice that the people are agitated, and that the founders empowered the Congress to respond to such agitation by holding errant presidents to account. It was not a congressman from Wisconsin who observed: “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above justice?” It was George Mason, speaking to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising 

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