What I learned about impeachment
Be advised this is not an opinion piece nor a political commentary; this is purely sharing of historical facts. In keeping with Walter Isaacson’s suggestion that we go forth and be curious about everything in life (as was Leonardo da Vinci), I enrolled in the Ideas Festival session on “Impeachment” simply to learn more.
Please note I did not do an exhaustive research on impeachment — these are my notes from the Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein, renowned author of “Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter.”
Sustein elaborated on the lengthy discussions among our Founding Fathers in Philadelphia in 1787 who wanted to ensure the colonies’ Constitution did not allow a similar tyranny as that of King George. The Founding Fathers feared ending up with an elected monarch, so their goal was to make it easy to get rid of any leader in the colonies who was not fit to lead.
Abraham Lincoln believed in self-government and civil rights.
Ben Franklin recommended a republic “if you can keep it,” at which point “subjects” would become “citizens.”
Alexander Hamilton and the Philadelphia delegates to the Continental Congress believed there should be no total ruling executive authority, so the Articles of Confederation were created. Sherman insisted that to avoid having a monarchy, the Senate needed to be able to impeach the president. Madison and Monroe warned “Shall any man be above justice?”
So the question arose in 1787, if there was to be impeachment — for what cause? Treason and bribery? Madison and Monroe dismissed the idea of “high crimes and misdemeanors” on the basis that crime is not a necessary condition for impeachment.
Hamilton in the Federalist Papers recommended a definition for impeachment as pure and simple as “abuse of public trust.”
Three presidents have been impeached in U. S. history, of which two reached a level of valid cause, and one did not.
1. Andrew Johnson was impeached for firing his secretary of state because firing a cabinet member was an impeachable offense.
2. Richard Nixon was impeached based on four causes, only two of which were legitimate. His multiple acts of cover-ups were not impeachable. His cheating ($400,000) on taxes was a crime, but not impeachable. However, asking the CIA to foil the FBI investigation in an illegal burglary was an impeachable offense, and enlisting the federal government to punish political enemies was an impeachable offense. Two of Nixon’s four offenses were impeachable.
3. Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, which Sustein concludes was a “shameful abuse of power” on the part of the House because lying about sexual conduct in no way reaches the level of impeachment.
According to Sustein, the chief justice presides over an impeachment trial and there is no appeal process for impeachment.
The Emoluments Clause in the Constitution prohibits a president from accepting money from foreign powers which is an impeachable offense. This provision was created to prevent U.S. ambassadors from accepting gifts from foreign powers to influence them which might tempt federal officeholders from “exclusive loyalty” to the U.S.
The 25th Amendment pertains to a president when he is unable to perform his duties due to a cognitive inability or incapacity.
An egregious use of power or a president who repeatedly lies to the public is impeachable.
Professor Sustein also revealed that narcissism and paranoia constitute mental illness; however, it was agreed by Hamilton and Madison and the other Founding Fathers in 1787 that “abuse of public trust” would be the basis for presidential impeachment.
Herein ends my notes from Professor Sustein’s presentation on the history and background of impeachment.
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