Trump must be im­peached. Here’s why.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY LAU­RENCE H. TRIBE The writer is Carl M. Loeb Univer­sity Pro­fes­sor and Pro­fes­sor of Con­sti­tu­tional Law at Har­vard Law School.

The time has come for Congress to launch an im­peach­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump for ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. The rem­edy of im­peach­ment was de­signed to cre­ate a last-re­sort mech­a­nism for pre­serv­ing our con­sti­tu­tional sys­tem. It op­er­ates by re­mov­ing ex­ec­u­tive-branch of­fi­cials who have so abused power through what the framers called “high crimes and mis­de­meanors” that they can­not be trusted to con­tinue in of­fice.

No Amer­i­can pres­i­dent has ever been re­moved for such abuses, although Andrew John­son was im­peached and came within a sin­gle vote of be­ing con­victed by the Se­nate and re­moved, and Richard Nixon re­signed to avoid that fate.

Now the coun­try is faced with a pres­i­dent whose con­duct strongly sug­gests that he poses a dan­ger to our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment.

Am­ple rea­sons ex­isted to worry about this pres­i­dent, and to pon­der the ex­tra­or­di­nary rem­edy of im­peach­ment, even be­fore he fired FBI Direc­tor James B. Comey and shock­ingly ad­mit­ted on na­tional tele­vi­sion that the ac­tion was pro­voked by the FBI’s in­ten­si­fy­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his cam­paign’s ties with Rus­sia.

Even with­out get­ting to the bot­tom of what Trump dis­missed as “this Rus­sia thing,” im­peach­able of­fenses could the­o­ret­i­cally have been charged from the out­set of this pres­i­dency. One im­por­tant ex­am­ple is Trump’s brazen de­fi­ance of the for­eign emol­u­ments clause, which is de­signed to pre­vent for­eign pow­ers from pres­sur­ing U.S. of­fi­cials to stray from un­di­vided loy­alty to the United States. Po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity made im­peach­ment and re­moval on that and other grounds seem pre­ma­ture.

No longer. To wait for the re­sults of the mul­ti­ple in­ves­ti­ga­tions un­der­way is to risk ty­ing our na­tion’s fate to the whims of an au­thor­i­tar­ian leader.

Comey’s sum­mary fir­ing will not stop the in­quiry, yet it rep­re­sented an ob­vi­ous ef­fort to in­ter­fere with a probe in­volv­ing na­tional se­cu­rity mat­ters vastly more se­ri­ous than the “third-rate bur­glary” that Nixon tried to cover up in Water­gate. The ques­tion of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and pos­si­ble col­lu­sion with the Trump cam­paign go to the heart of our sys­tem and abil­ity to con­duct free and fair elec­tions.

Con­sider, too, how Trump em­broiled Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod J. Rosen­stein and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, de­spite Ses­sions’s re­cusal from in­volve­ment in the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in pre­par­ing ad­mit­tedly phony jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for the fir­ing on which Trump had al­ready de­cided. Con­sider how Trump used the vice pres­i­dent and White House staff to prop­a­gate a set of bla­tant un­truths — be­fore giv­ing an in­ter­view to NBC’s Lester Holt that ex­posed his true mo­ti­va­tion.

Trump ac­com­pa­nied that con­fes­sion with self­serv­ing — and man­i­festly false — as­ser­tions about hav­ing been as­sured by Comey that Trump him­self was not un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion. By Trump’s own ac­count, he asked Comey about his in­ves­tiga­tive sta­tus even as he was con­duct­ing the equiv­a­lent of a job in­ter­view in which Comey sought to re­tain his po­si­tion as direc­tor.

Fur­ther re­port­ing sug­gests that the en­counter was even more sin­is­ter, with Trump in­sist­ing that Comey pledge “loy­alty” to him in or­der to re­tain his job. Pub­licly say­ing he saw noth­ing wrong with de­mand­ing such loy­alty, the pres­i­dent turned to Twit­ter with a none-too-sub­tle threat that Comey would re­gret any de­ci­sion to dis­sem­i­nate his ver­sion of his conversations with Trump — some­thing that Comey has ev­ery right, and in­deed a civic duty, to do.

To say that this does not in it­self rise to the level of “ob­struc­tion of jus­tice” is to empty that con­cept of all mean­ing. Ob­struc­tion of jus­tice was the first count in the ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment against Nixon and, years later, a count against Bill Clin­ton. In Clin­ton’s case, the os­ten­si­ble ob­struc­tion con­sisted solely in ly­ing un­der oath about a sor­did sex­ual af­fair that may have sul­lied the Oval Of­fice but in­volved no abuse of pres­i­den­tial power as such.

But in Nixon’s case, the list of ac­tions that to­gether were deemed to con­sti­tute im­peach­able ob­struc­tion reads like a fore­cast of what Trump would do decades later — mak­ing mis­lead­ing state­ments to, or with­hold­ing ma­te­rial ev­i­dence from, fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors or other fed­eral em­ploy­ees; try­ing to in­ter­fere with FBI or con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tions; try­ing to break through the FBI’s shield sur­round­ing on­go­ing crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions; dan­gling car­rots in front of peo­ple who might oth­er­wise pose trou­ble for one’s hold on power.

It will re­quire se­ri­ous com­mit­ment to con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ple, and coura­geous will­ing­ness to put de­vo­tion to the na­tional in­ter­est above self­in­ter­est and party loy­alty, for a Congress of the pres­i­dent’s own party to ini­ti­ate an im­peach­ment in­quiry. It would be a ter­ri­ble shame if only the mount­ing prospect of be­ing voted out of of­fice in Novem­ber 2018 would suf­fi­ciently con­cen­trate the minds of rep­re­sen­ta­tives and sen­a­tors to­day.

But whether it is de­vo­tion to prin­ci­ple or hunger for po­lit­i­cal sur­vival that puts the prospect of im­peach­ment and re­moval on the ta­ble, the cru­cial thing is that the prospect now be taken se­ri­ously, that the ma­chin­ery of re­moval be re­ac­ti­vated, and that the need to use it be­come the fo­cus of po­lit­i­cal dis­course go­ing into 2018.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.