John Katko is wrong when he says that all of the previous impeachments were based on a crime. Andrew Johnson was impeached because he fired an official committed to carrying out the Republican program of bestowing civil rights on recently freed slaves. While his opponents argued that he violated a statute limiting his removal authority, nobody ever suggested that he committed a crime. Nixon’s offenses triggering an impeachment inquiry and bipartisan support for his removal included firing Justice Department officials who refused to fire the special prosecutor investigating Watergate. Trump fired James Comey and tried to get Robert Mueller fired, conduct quite similar to the conduct that led to Johnson’s impeachment and Nixon’s resignation. Trump, also like Nixon, tried to get dirt on his opponent by stealing information. Nixon did it by ordering a burglary of the Democratic National Headquarters; Trump did it by encouraging Russia to hack Hilary Clinton’s email. But Nixon never stooped so low as to try to get a dependent government to investigate his political opponents.
Bill Clinton was impeached for lying to investigators about sexual misconduct. Trump lies every day about affairs of state, which constitutes an egregious abuse of the public trust at the heart of the concerns animating inclusion of impeachment in the Constitution. The Framers used the phrase high crimes and misdemeanors to refer to all betrayals of the public trust, not just violations of the criminal code. Trump has abused his office more thoroughly than any of his predecessors, by carrying out all of the abuses they carried out and then adding many others. Katko needs to recognize that our Constitution makes the presidency a position of honor and trust and set up impeachment to rid the Republic of abusers of the office. This is not the same thing as the prosecution of an ordinary citizen who has no special obligations to the nation as a whole.
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