US con­sti­tu­tion de­mands law­less pres­i­dent must be re­moved

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - OPINION - BRET STEPHENS

FOR ALL of my op­po­si­tion to US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, I have long been scep­ti­cal of the po­lit­i­cal wis­dom or ev­i­den­tiary ba­sis of ef­forts to im­peach him.

My rea­sons are as fol­lows.

First, be­ing a ter­ri­ble pres­i­dent and a wretched per­son are not im­peach­able of­fences.

Sec­ond, Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion has so far pro­duced ev­i­dence that can be in­ter­preted as ob­struc­tion of jus­tice but not as clear proof.

Third, im­peach­ment in the

House would be un­likely to trans­late into con­vic­tion in the Se­nate, even if Democrats win both cham­bers in the au­tumn. Fourth, im­peach­ment with­out con­vic­tion could strengthen Trump po­lit­i­cally, much as it did for Bill Clin­ton af­ter his own 1998 im­peach­ment.

And, like it or not, Trump re­mains pop­u­lar with tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. To over­turn the re­sults of an elec­tion for any­thing less than un­am­bigu­ous ev­i­dence of crim­i­nal be­hav­iour is a dan­ger to democ­racy it­self.

At least that was my view un­til this week. Michael Co­hen’s guilty plea changes this. The US con­sti­tu­tion’s stan­dard for im­peach­ment is “Trea­son, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Mis­de­meanors”.

The stan­dard is now met. Trump’s long-time fixer ac­knowl­edged in court on Tues­day he had vi­o­lated cam­paign fi­nance laws by pay­ing hush money to two women “in co-or­di­na­tion with and at the di­rec­tion of a can­di­date for fed­eral of­fice”. That means Trump. That means Trump is cred­i­bly al­leged to have pur­pose­fully con­spired with Co­hen to com­mit crim­i­nal acts. That means the duo did so “for pur­poses of in­flu­enc­ing (an) elec­tion for fed­eral of­fice”, which is the le­gal def­i­ni­tion of a cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion.

It also means, as pres­i­dent, Trump al­legedly sought to con­ceal the ar­range­ment by fail­ing to note in last year’s fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure forms his re­im­burse­ments to Co­hen. The pres­i­dent prob­a­bly con­tin­ues to lie to the Amer­i­can peo­ple about the na­ture and pur­pose of those pay­ments.

The Trumpian re­but­tal to these charges is that Co­hen is a sleazy lawyer and proven liar.

And the most prom­i­nent at­tempt to pros­e­cute a po­lit­i­cal fig­ure for vi­o­lat­ing cam­paign-fi­nance laws – in­volv­ing for­mer Demo­cratic sen­a­tor and 2004 vice-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date John Ed­wards – failed in court. And that cam­paign-fi­nance vi­o­la­tions don’t rise to the level of im­peach­able of­fences, any­way.

But if Co­hen’s lies as Trump’s lawyer are one thing, ly­ing un­der oath to a judge is quite an­other. Co­hen’s sen­tenc­ing isn’t un­til De­cem­ber, when he’s ex­pected to be sent to prison for up to five years. If he’s be­ing un­truth­ful, that leaves plenty of time for any de­ceits to come to light. Ask your­self, does he look like a guy ea­ger to have his sen­tence dou­bled?

As for the Ed­wards stan­dard, the case failed be­cause pros­e­cu­tors could not prove that the for­mer North Carolina sen­a­tor re­ceived cam­paign do­na­tions from bene­fac­tors to in­flu­ence an elec­tion, rather than sim­ply cover up an em­bar­rass­ing af­fair. In Trump’s case, there is lit­tle doubt about the pur­pose of the pay­ment to Stormy Daniels – to pre­vent dis­clo­sure of their al­leged li­ai­son, less than a month be­fore the elec­tion and barely two weeks af­ter the Ac­cess Hol­ly­wood tape came to light.

To sug­gest this doesn’t amount to a felo­nious act also doesn’t pass the smell test. The pres­i­dent is now, in ef­fect, an unin­dicted co-con­spir­a­tor on charges al­ready pros­e­cuted by the gov­ern­ment as a crim­i­nal mat­ter against Co­hen. Why should a lighter stan­dard ap­ply to Trump, since he is the one at whose di­rec­tion Co­hen claims to have made the pay­ments?

That question should es­pe­cially en­gage those con­ser­va­tives who de­manded Clin­ton’s im­peach­ment (as I did). Take South Carolina’s Lind­sey Gra­ham, one of the House man­agers over­see­ing the case against the 42nd pres­i­dent.

“Twenty-five years ago,” he said that De­cem­ber, “a Demo­crat­ic­con­trolled ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee, with a mi­nor­ity of Repub­li­cans, re­ported ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment against Richard Nixon”.

“Why? Nixon cheated – he cheated the elec­toral sys­tem, by concealing ef­forts of a po­lit­i­cal break-in, and his peo­ple thought the other side de­served to be cheated. They thought his en­e­mies de­served to be mis­treated. Ladies and gen­tle­men, they were wrong.”

He con­tin­ued: “To­day, Repub­li­cans, with a small hand­ful of Democrats, will vote to im­peach Pres­i­dent Clin­ton. Why? Be­cause we be­lieve he com­mit­ted crimes re­sult­ing in cheat­ing our le­gal sys­tem. We be­lieve he lied un­der oath nu­mer­ous times, that he tam­pered with ev­i­dence, that he con­spired to present false tes­ti­mony to a court of law. We be­lieve he as­saulted our le­gal sys­tem in ev­ery way. Let it be said that any pres­i­dent who cheats our in­sti­tu­tions shall be im­peached.”

The em­phases here are mine. To con­ser­va­tives read­ing this col­umn, ask your­selves these ques­tions:

If break­ing the law (by ly­ing un­der oath) to con­ceal an af­fair was im­peach­able, why is break­ing the law (by vi­o­lat­ing cam­paign­fi­nance laws) to con­ceal an af­fair not im­peach­able?

If “cheat­ing the elec­toral sys­tem” (by means of a bur­glary) was im­peach­able, why is cheat­ing the elec­toral sys­tem (by means of il­licit hush money) not im­peach­able?

If cheat­ing “our in­sti­tu­tions”

(by means of an “as­sault” in

“ev­ery way” on the le­gal sys­tem) is im­peach­able, why is cheat­ing those in­sti­tu­tions (by means of non-stop pres­i­den­tial men­dac­ity and re­lent­less at­tacks on the Jus­tice Depart­ment and the FBI) not?

Prag­ma­tists will re­join there’s no sense in ad­vo­cat­ing im­peach­ment when the Repub­li­can Party con­trols Congress. I’m sorry so many con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans have lost their sense of moral prin­ci­ple and in­sti­tu­tional self-re­spect but that’s a rea­son to seek Demo­cratic vic­to­ries in the com­ing months.

The con­sti­tu­tion mat­ters more than a tax cut. What the con­sti­tu­tion de­mands is the im­peach­ment and re­moval from of­fice of this law­less pres­i­dent. – New York Times

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