Strongest Case for Impeachment - Ever

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George Schiro

Jan 17, 2020, 8:33:49 PM1/17/20
to gg
From a British journalist of "The Guardian" (ie. a completely disinterested
3rd party):

Trump's is the third impeachment in US history
and no case has been stronger

In contrast with Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, no
chicanery was needed to ensnare Trump. He brought this
on himself

The trial of Donald Trump, which opens in earnest on
Tuesday, is the third presidential impeachment in US
history - and the most legitimate. For the first time,
an American president will face the ultimate sanction
not because he walked into a legal trap set by his
opponents, or because of some broader, underlying rift
in society, but because of the actual "high crimes and
misdemeanors" on the charge sheet. Legally, the Senate
has never confronted a stronger case for the removal of
a sitting president than the one it is about to hear.

Of course, none of this means that Trump is about to be
removed. But it is worth bearing in mind, as you watch
53 Republican members of the Senate - now remade as a
jury, every senator having sworn an oath to "do
impartial justice according to the constitution and
laws" - echo the vocabulary of the accused and blithely
dismiss the whole business as a "hoax" or "witch-hunt".

They're wrong because Trump's is the standout case in a
category of notoriety that is already vanishingly
small. Andrew Johnson was the first president to be
impeached - in effect, indicted - by the US House of
Representatives, back in 1868. No one would want to
defend Johnson or his politics. He was a foul-mouthed,
racist drunk, the accidental president who'd only been
vice-president for a few weeks when Abraham Lincoln was
assassinated, leaving him in the top job. Johnson was
only ever meant to be a symbolic number two: the
governor of Tennessee who until a year earlier had been
a slave owner, he'd been picked by Lincoln as a gesture
of reconciliation towards the slave-owning south
defeated in the civil war. With Lincoln dead, Johnson
found himself facing a Congress determined to grant at
least a modicum of rights to 4 million former slaves.
Johnson was bent on thwarting that effort at every

Still, you don't have to feel a shred of sympathy for
Johnson to recognise that his foes on Capitol Hill set
for him what the constitutional law expert, Noah
Feldman, calls "an impeachment trap". They passed a law
compelling him to keep in post appointees of his
predecessor - including officials willing to grant
basic liberties to newly freed black Americans.
Congress even wrote into law that any violation would
constitute a "high misdemeanor", ensuring that such a
violation would automatically count as an impeachable
offence. So when Johnson sacked his secretary of war,
he promptly walked right into the impeachment trap.

The circumstances for the second impeachee, Bill
Clinton, were rather different, but he, too, could
claim entrapment. Remember, he was asked under oath
whether he had had a sexual relationship with the White
House intern, Monica Lewinsky. His inquisitors knew
what he did not: that they had DNA evidence proving
just such a relationship. Clinton denied it, lying
under oath. He had walked into a perjury trap, and it
was for that crime that he was tried in the Senate more
than 20 years ago.

No such chicanery was necessary to ensnare Trump. Of
his own volition and requiring no prodding, he made
that fateful 25 July phone call to the president of
Ukraine in which he pressured him to dig up dirt on
Trump's political rival, Joe Biden, on pain of losing
$400m in essential military aid or forfeiting a coveted
meeting at the White House. That is as clear an abuse
of power as it is possible to imagine, using the muscle
of the US government for personal gain. It took no
canny drafting of laws or sneaky questioning under
oath. Unlike Johnson and Clinton, Trump did this all by

Trump has no access to the hiding places where his
predecessors in the presidential dock took refuge. He
cannot claim, as Johnson could, that any violation of
the law was on a narrow technicality. By way of
confirmation, the non-partisan Government
Accountability Office ruled on Thursday that the White
House broke the law when it froze funding to Ukraine,
cash whose release had been legally mandated by

As it happens, the US's founders did not require a
formal or specific law to be broken for a president to
be impeached. They conceived of "high crimes and
misdemeanors" much more broadly: merely to break the
public trust should merit removal. But as a matter of
political reality, impeachment has tended to come down
to a balder question: has a law been broken? And with
Trump the answer could not be louder or clearer.

The Trump case is more straightforward than the others
in another sense, too. The Johnson episode was all
about race, about a nation emerging from the smoking
ruins of a civil war fought over slavery. That argument
was not over; Johnson's trial simply opened up a new

With Clinton, it's tempting to see his impeachment as a
battle in the gender wars, a precursor of #metoo,
turning on issues of power imbalance and consent. More
accurately, given that Clinton's Republican prosecutors
were hardly motivated by feminist outrage, it was a
climax of a contest that had been raging since Clinton
first ran for president, if not before: a culture war
in which Clinton was cast as the embodiment of the
moral permissiveness of the 1960s, dodging the draft
and smoking dope (even if he didn't inhale). His
impeachment was the culmination of a near-decade-long
effort to suggest that Clinton's character alone made
him unfit for the White House and therefore an
illegitimate president.

You could probably build an impeachment case against
Trump that rested on either race or gender. On the
former, his record of white supremacism is ample,
dating back to the discrimination cases brought against
him as a New York landlord in the 1970s, through to his
proposed ban on all Muslims entering the US, to his
baiting of African-American public figures and praising
of neo-Nazis as "very fine people". On gender, this is
a man who has been credibly accused of sexual assault
and who bragged of doing so. Similarly, there are those
who see Trump, like Johnson or Clinton before him, as
an essentially illegitimate occupant of the White
House, not least because in 2016 he won 3m fewer votes
than his defeated opponent.

And yet the actual impeachment case against Trump does
not relate to, or depend on, any of that. You could
strip all of that wider context away, and the charges
against Trump would still stand. That is not true of
Johnson or Clinton. "This is a case like no other and
Trump is a president like no other," says Adam Smith,
professor of US political history at Oxford.

Perhaps the closest precedent is the president who quit
rather than be impeached and removed. Like Trump,
Richard Nixon was guilty of an abuse of power that went
way beyond a technicality. Like Trump, Nixon
stonewalled Congress's investigation of his crimes,
though, as Feldman writes: "Nixon engaged in far less
obstruction than Trump." But unlike Trump, Nixon lived
in a time when partisanship did not blind members of
the House and Senate to their constitutional, even
patriotic, duty. Trump is guiltier than his
predecessors - but he's also far, far luckier.

Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist

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