Calls from Democratic officials to impeach Donald Trump began just days after his election. As of Monday evening, both parties may finally feel justified in doing so, with one Republican official already sounding the alarm.
In a memo that has yet to be released to the public, former F.B.I director James Comey revealed that Donald Trump asked him to “let this go.” This being the F.B.I. investigation of removed national security adviser Michael Flynn.
As had been his practice in past administrations, Comey immediately wrote detailed notes about his encounter with the President, which took place one day after Flynn was fired for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about conversations and extensive contacts he had with a Russian ambassador.
The key issue here is whether asking Comey to drop the Flynn investigation amounts to an obstruction of justice, which is considered an impeachable offense.
According to Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution:
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
A “high” crime or misdemeanor is simply one committed by a public official; and a political crime can merely be political behavior that Congress deems improper enough to require impeachment. It doesn’t necessarily have the same high standard as a crime punishable by law.
While Trump’s Comey request may be the latest and most egregious step the president has taken towards the impeachment line, there have been other times Trump has wandered dangerously close to it.
Unconstitutional Syrian Air Strike
The Constitution grants Congress the power to declare war and requires that the president secure congressional approval before engaging in certain acts of war, which last month’s Syrian air strike would fall under. Trump did not seek approval from Congress before engaging with Syria, which could be considered a “high crime [or] misdemeanor.”
Possible Election Interference
Though the Trump administration flatly denies their involvement, FBI conclusions that Russia interfered with America’s general election begs the questions of what extent Trump knew about this interference and whether he participated in it. The constitution’s definition of treason is an act that gives U.S. enemies “aid and comfort” and involves “adhering” to these enemies. With America’s historically contemptuous relationship with Russia, it is likely that any evidence showing Trump colluding with Russia prior to the presidential election would be considered treasonous.
Sharing Highly Classified Information With Russian Officials
Like a delirious kid high on Halloween candy, Trump plays presidential dress-up and acts irresponsibly giddy with political power. Similar to his careless meetings at his Florida White House — where he has discussed sensitive information in the presence of foreign guests — Trump’s latest encounter with the Russians resulted in him discussing the intelligence of an allied country without the consent of his source. While this is an act of ineptitude more than treason or a “high crime” or misdemeanor, the optics of having this meeting right after firing James Comey are certainly curious.
Trump latest fiasco is, of course, reminiscent of President Nixon’s plan to curb an FBI investigation into his affairs and forcing federal enforcement agencies to resign during the Watergate scandal. Proof that Nixon obstructed justice led to his own resignation before he could face impeachment and criminal conviction.
So beyond the letter of the law and its practical interpretation, there must also be political will to impeach a president. It requires a vote by the majority in the House and two-thirds of the Senate. With Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress, calling for impeachment may seem futile now. But it could very well be a recurring topic during next year’s midterm elections.