I keep asking myself: If a Democratic president had conducted himself — or herself — as Donald Trump has in the first year, would I favor the beginning of an impeachment process? I ask all Republicans who care about our constitution and the future of our country to ask the same question.
My answer is yes. We cannot afford a partisan double standard on this essential question of impeachment under our Constitution.
The constitutional standard for impeaching a president, under Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution, is a congressional finding that a president has committed “high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
That phrase was not further defined in the Constitution. The Framers and most constitutional scholars agreed that an impeachable offense must involve a presidential abuse of power — one that threatens our constitutional system or national security. It must involve, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist Paper No. 65, “the abuse or violation of some public trust…[and relates] chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
The presumption against impeachment must be high. Not only must there be a clear abuse of governmental power but also, to be legitimate, the impeachment process cannot be partisan.
For that reason, most historians regard the almost entirely partisan impeachment process of the House of Representatives in 1868 against President Andrew Johnson and in 1998 against President Bill Clinton to have been illegitimate.
In Clinton’s case, the House Republicans voted for impeachment in December 1998, with defeated Republicans in the lame duck session after the November 1998 congressional elections voting for impeachment. Proving such illegitimacy, the House managers in 1999 were unable to obtain even a majority of Republican U.S. Senators — out of a total of 55 — to support either of the two House impeachment counts.
In the case of Donald Trump, there are many examples of specific words and deeds that Republicans as well as Democrats should regard as deserving of investigation as to whether they meet Hamilton’s standard of “violation of some public trust” and “injuries done immediately to society itself.”
Let’s look at just one: Donald Trump’s serial, willful, material lies to the American people. In other words lies that he indisputably knew were lies when he uttered them.
It is important to note the word “material.” The New York Times and others have documented over 1,000 knowing, willful lies by President Trump in his first year as president. But the standard of “materiality” used here means that Trump’s lies, to be investigated as impeachable, must constitute a threat to our nation’s constitutional integrity or our national security.
The most important example Is Trump’s public lie at home and abroad during the July 7-8 European Summit denying the certainty that Russia interfered in the U.S. 2016 presidential elections to help his candidacy and to harm Hilary Clinton’s.
On January 6, 2017, leaders of the U.S. Intelligence Community showed Trump a classified report, reportedly including raw intelligence and intercepts, proving that Russia, with the direct involvement of Putin, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help his candidacy and to harm Hillary Clinton’s. Trump’s own appointed directors of National Intelligence and the CIA support this conclusion. No Republican congressional leader disagrees.
Trump’s serial lies on this issue are an attack on the credibility of the entire U.S. intelligence community, which has led the fight against terrorism since 9/11. It also encourages Putin to continue to interfere in American elections and undermine our democracy. Therefore, the case is strong that these particular Trump lies are an attack, in Hamilton’s words, on our “society itself.”
There is bipartisan precedent. In 1974, a bipartisan vote by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee included Nixon’s lies as grounds for impeachment. A conservative Republican congressman from Maryland, Rep. Lawrence Hogan, who voted for all three articles of impeachment in the Nixon case, stated: “The evidence convinces me that my President has lied repeatedly, deceiving public officials and the American people.”
Democrats must resist too easily using the “impeachment” word without specific constitutional standards and proven facts and conduct violating those standards. Republicans must remember that our constitution is more important than loyalty to a president. Only through a bipartisan investigation by the House Judiciary Committee can President Trump be compelled to cooperate and can we learn the truth.
To those who are left with the argument that impeachment is only an effort to overturn a free and unimpaired election in 2016, reflecting the will of the electorate, I rebut with just two names: James Comey and Vladimir Putin. But for Comey writing his October 28 letter, the math is beyond doubt: Clinton wins. Trump’s presidency is therefore illegitimate. His election was a fluke, the result of alien interventions by the former FBI Director 11 days from the election and by Vladimir Putin’s massive cyber meddling to help Trump.
If ever there was a time for patriotic commitment to principle over party and the constitution over partisan interests, this is that time.
Let the impeachment investigation process begin.
Lanny Davis is a Washington D.C. attorney and co-founder of Davis Goldberg Galper PLLC, a law firm specializing in crisis and reputation management. He is a former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton in 1996-98. His forthcoming book, “The Unmaking of the President 2016: How James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton the Election” (Scribner), is due to be published in February 2018.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.