George Will: The GOP is “a party of slow-learning careerists” who have tethered their “careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw”

George-Will-Donald-Trump-640x480

I am glad that conservative columnist George Will is coming to Messiah College on October 31, 2019.  In yesterday’s column, Will rips into the Republican Party and its “canine loyalty” to Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

In Federalist 51, James Madison anticipated a wholesome rivalry and constructive tension between the government’s two political branches: “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected to the constitutional rights of the place.” Equilibrium between the branches depends on “supplying, by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives.” But equilibrium has vanished as members of Congress think entirely as party operatives and not at all as institutionalists.

Trump is not just aggressively but lawlessly exercising the interests of his place, counting on Congress, after decades of lassitude regarding its interests, being an ineffective combatant. Trump’s argument, injected into him by subordinates who understand that absurdity is his vocation, is essentially that the Constitution’s impeachment provisions are unconstitutional.

The canine loyalty of Senate Republicans will keep Trump in office. But until he complies with House committee subpoenas, the House must not limply hope federal judges will enforce their oversight powers. Instead, the House should wield its fundamental power, that of the purse, to impose excruciating costs on executive branch noncompliance. This can be done.

In 13 months, all congressional Republicans who have not defended Congress by exercising “the constitutional rights of the place” should be defeated. If congressional Republicans continue their genuflections at Trump’s altar, the appropriate 2020 outcome will be a Republican thrashing so severe — losing the House, the Senate and the electoral votes of, say, Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina and even Texas — that even this party of slow-learning careerists might notice the hazards of tethering their careers to a downward-spiraling scofflaw.

Read the entire piece here.

On Rudy Giuliani and the Salem Witch Trials

Salem_witch2

In case you missed it, here is yet another example of a politician’s sloppy use of history.

 

Or watch this.  (Now I am really curious to know what “two books” on the Salem Witch Trials that Trump’s personal attorney read).

Marisa Iati of The Washington Post does a nice job of addressing the many problems with Giuliani’s comment. She draws heavily from the excellent work of historian Emerson Baker.  A taste:

Although those suspected of practicing black magic have been persecuted at least since biblical times, hysteria around witchcraft in the United States peaked in the late 17th century. Young girls who started screaming and flying into “fits” would prompt local men to complain to a judge that someone was harming the girls through witchcraft. A dubious legal process would follow.

“Under the English tradition of justice, you are innocent until proven guilty,” said Emerson W. Baker, a history professor at Salem State University who has studied the witch trials. “However, in 1692, that clearly did not happen.”

Giuliani was correct that accusers at the Salem trials had to attach their names to their testimony. His claim that people accused of witchcraft were confronted by the witnesses in their cases, however, was largely false.

Many of the people who accused others of witchcraft never appeared at trial, Baker said. Instead, the supposedly afflicted girls would give depositions that were then presented in court. In these cases, there was no opportunity to cross-examine the accusers.

To start a witchcraft investigation, a person would complain about someone to a local judge. The judge would compel the sheriff’s office to arrest the accused so they could appear before a panel of judges, who would determine whether there was enough evidence to detain them before trial.

Read the entire piece here.

Of course Giuliani breaks almost every rule of good historical thinking here.  The comparison between 17th-century New England and impeachment process in the U.S. Constitution is absurd.  The legal culture of Puritan New England and the legal culture of the early American republic were completely different.  If you are going to invoke the Salem Witch Trials, then let’s talk about spectral evidence and execution of Quakers in Boston Common.  Or let’s just talk about how things ended up for the supposed witches in 1692.

The Benefits of Impeachment: Some Lessons from Andrew Johnson

Johnson

Historian Gregory Downs thinks that Trump should be impeached even if the Senate keeps him office. There is a good chance that the time between the impeachment in the House and the trial in the Senate might “curtail Trump’s worst behaviors” and neutralize him politically.

Downs uses the impeachment of Andrew Johnson to make his point.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Washington Post:

Johnson’s adept attorneys succeeded in protecting his tenure in office in two ways. First, they sought to delay the Senate trial. Then, they used that delay to persuade Johnson to keep his hands off Reconstruction. As the trial hung over him and then dragged on through April and May, a chastened Johnson pledged to appoint a moderate secretary of war, stop shuffling generals in the Southern states, and let the Army and African American Republicans complete their work in the South. By April, a half-dozen former Confederate states had ratified their new constitutions and asked Congress for readmission. Only then, in mid-May, did the Senate finally vote on Johnson’s fate.

Even with his acquiescence to Reconstruction, Johnson survived only by a single vote in that Senate tally. Although the 14th Amendment was not ratified until July 1868, the impeachment trial that put Johnson’s fate into question allowed freedpeople, white Southern Republicans and the Army to freely engage in the crucial work of making what some scholars call a “Second Constitution,” a refashioning of the federal government’s role in protecting individual rights through the 14th Amendment’s pledges of equal protection and due process. Most significantly, those reconstructed states provided the votes to ratify the proposed amendment, which has subsequently shaped Supreme Court decisions on desegregation, voting rights, same-sex marriage, freedom of speech and assembly, and many other basic rights we enjoy today.

Impeachment also did play a role in Johnson leaving office by weakening him politically. In 1866, Johnson had explored the creation of a new party that combined Democrats and conservative Republicans. When that collapsed, he spent part of 1867 trying to engineer nomination by the Democratic Party, his old home. But the trial helped make him untouchable, and the Democrats turned to a different candidate, New York’s Horatio Seymour, leaving Johnson off the ballot.

Analogies are never perfect. We are not now in a period of Reconstruction, or a moment when Congress and the president are primarily at war over such a specific set of laws. Nonetheless, as Johnson did, Trump threatens the nation’s stability by attacking our faith in elections and the rule of law, as well as our global alliances. His tweets and incendiary rhetoric are dangerous, and although no one can say how he would respond to a looming trial, one possibility is that he, like Johnson, might tone down his behavior to avoid removal. And this possibility makes it worth taking the political risk posed by impeachment.

Trying to judge the worthiness of impeachment solely by whether it ends in conviction and removal would be a mistake. If the presence of a trial disciplines Trump to stop encouraging foreign interference in U.S. elections and to start curtailing his destabilizing rhetoric, impeachment will have been worth it, whether it ends in conviction or acquittal, in 2020 reelection or defeat. While many will call for a speedy impeachment trial if the House votes to impeach, senators might look to the Johnson case to ask whether a deliberate process will sustain pressure on the White House to behave more responsibly, and give the president the opportunity to save — or destroy — his tenure in office.

Read the rest here.

My Piece Today at Religion News Service: “Trump’s evangelicals bewail a ‘civil war’ while still profiting from the last one”

Trump Jeffress

Here is a taste:

But Jeffress also seemed to forget another important point about American civic life in his civil war comment. The United States, after all, had a real Civil War, in which over 600,000 lives were lost.

Did the country heal after this war?

The United States still exists, implying that some healing certainly took place. But the war also left us with some open wounds. The war brought an end to slavery, but it did not bring an end to the racism upon which slavery was built.

These wounds are still open and Jeffress’ own First Baptist Dallas, with its long history of segregation, has contributed to keeping them open. His congregation was built upon a Civil War fracture that has not yet healed. Under his leadership, it has failed to confront its long-standing commitment to racial injustice in any meaningful way.

We don’t need to fear a new civil war. Instead, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address, we still need to bind the wounds of the old one. The impeachment and removal of Trump will be a step toward the ongoing work Lincoln called us to do.

Read the entire piece here.

The Chief Court Evangelical Weighs In on Impeachment

Last Friday The Washington Post published my piece titled “How evangelical leaders surrounded Clinton during the last presidential impeachment process.”  In that piece I wrote:

In his memoir, Clinton specifically mentions Campolo and MacDonald as two of three pastors he asked to counsel him for at least once a month for an indefinite period. (The third pastor was Philip Wogaman, a Methodist.)

Like the Old Testament prophet Nathan who confronted King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Campolo and MacDonald entered the president’s “court” as pastors — Christian leaders charged with the task of calling out sin and facilitating spiritual healing.

It’s hard to imagine something similar happening should Congress impeach Trump. The evangelical leaders he surrounds himself with are flatterers who are not likely to confront the president’s sin. They need Trump to continue to deliver on their agenda. I imagine most of them will affirm Trump’s belief that he has “done nothing wrong” and perhaps offer a lesson about the demonic forces seeking to undermine his presidency.

Yesterday on Fox and Friends, we saw one of Trump’s court evangelicals, Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, make me look like a prophet.  Watch:

As we all know by now, Trump was watching Jeffress on Fox News and decided to take the pastor’s counsel and run with it on his Twitter account:

Trump has learned a lot from his court evangelical counselors.  Perhaps most importantly, he learned how to fight a more aggressive culture war.

Jeffress remarks deserve a bit more analysis.  Some thoughts:

  1.  Jeffress seems to be making his pro-Trump political position the only conduit through which God hears our prayers.
  2. Jeffress says that Nancy Pelosi’s call to pray for the nation “reminds me of a pyromaniac with a match in hand about to set fire to a building saying ‘please pray with me, but the damage I’m about to cause isn’t too severe’. If you’re really sincere about that prayer then put down the dang match.” Of course Jeffress is incapable of seeing how he has been the “pyromaniac” of pyromaniacs since Trump announced his candidacy.  His divisive rhetoric has contributed to the fire raging in our nation and the church.
  3. Jeffress is angry and passionate.  He often behaves this way when he gets on his political high horse for Fox News.  This, after all, is why they pay him to go on television.  I imagine that Jeffress thinks he is exhibiting righteous anger.  But all I see is a deeply bitter and fearful man who has allowed politics to transform him and his character.
  4. Jeffress says that this week he has been traveling around the country speaking to “literally thousands and thousands” of evangelical Christians. “I have never seen them more angry over any issue,” he says ‘than this attempt to illegitimately remove this president from office, overturn the 2016 election, and negate the votes of millions of evangelicals in the process.”  First, if Jeffress is correct when he says he has never seen evangelicals more angry over “any other issue,” then what does this say about American evangelicals or the kinds of evangelicals he hangs out with?  Heck, Trump separated parents and kids at the border! Or lets take one of Jeffress’s favorites: babies are being aborted in the womb.  Are these cases not worthy of more evangelical anger than an impeachment?  Second, there is no way that Jeffress would be able to solicit the beliefs of thousands and thousands of evangelicals in a week of travel.  Having said that, he is probably right to suggest thousands upon thousands of evangelicals are upset (see my previous point).  Third, impeachment is in the United States Constitution.  It is not an “illegitimate” way of removing the president from office.  Fourth, the United States House of Representatives, the congressional body responsible for impeachment, is made up of men and women who were elected by the people.  In the 2018 midterm elections, the people of the United States gave the Democratic Party a majority in the House.  There is no illegitimacy here.  Congress is a co-equal branch of government woth the power to impeach.
  5. Jeffress says “the only impeachable offense” Trump committed was “beating Hillary Clinton” in 2016. Notice how Jeffress tries to rile-up the base here with his slick and deliberately vague talking points.  This is fear-mongering 101.  At no point in this interview does Jeffress come face-to-face with the reality of what Trump did on that phone call with the president of Ukraine.
  6. And then the punch-line: “If the Democrats are successful at removing the president from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal.”  First, this is the kind of appeal to fear that I wrote about extensively in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. Second, as historian Kevin Kruse has already pointed out, “Trump can only be removed through impeachment if two-thirds of the Senate votes to remove him. To do that, 20 Republicans would need to join the 45 Democrats and 2 Independents. Removal would be bipartisan. Framing it as some kind of civil war isn’t just dangerous. It’s dumb.”  Third, I want to encourage history teachers to debate Jeffress’s Civil War comment in their classrooms.  Jeffress seems to forget that the United States had a real Civil War in which over 700,000 lives were lost.  Did we heal?  Well, that’s up for debate.  The United States still exists.  So I guess some healing took place.  On the other hand, the racial backlash that came with this largely white “healing” process is still with us today.  In fact, Robert Jeffress’s First Baptist Church of Dallas is partially responsible for why the open wounds of race and slavery still need more healing.
  7. Jeffress says that evangelical Christians need to “act” by calling their representatives and telling them to support Trump.  He quotes Daniel 11:32: “The people who know their God will stand firm and take action.”  This verse is part of a larger passage in the Old Testament book of Daniel that mentions Jews standing up for the “holy covenant” between God and Israel after a Syrian invasion.  These Jews stood firm and took action to defend this covenant.  By invoking this verse in this context, Jeffress is once again implying that evangelical Christians, like the Jews before them, need to stand up and defend their chosen status.  We can trace this “New Israel” language back to the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, the first group in America to claim to have an exceptional or covenantal relationship with God.  Jeffress is engaging in Christian nationalism here.  The Bible does not teach any kind of special relationship or “covenant” between God and the United States of America.

Expect more of this from the court evangelicals in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Jeff Flake to GOP: “You cannot go elsewhere for a soul”

Flake

I wish Jeff Flake did more to oppose Trump while he was a member of the Senate.  He voted with Trump 81% of the time.  (This was not as much as another supposedly “anti-Trump” Republican Senator Ben Sasse and a bit more than “anti-Trump” Senator Mitt Romney).

But he did something good today.

Here is a taste of his message to the members of his party:

My fellow Republicans, it is time to risk your careers in favor of your principles. Whether you believe the president deserves impeachment, you know he does not deserve reelection.

Our country will have more presidents. But principles, well, we get just one crack at those. For those who want to put America first, it is critically important at this moment in the life of our country that we all, here and now, do just that.

Trust me when I say that you can go elsewhere for a job. But you cannot go elsewhere for a soul.

Read the entire piece here.

Today’s Piece at *The Washington Post*: Clinton’s Evangelical Advisers vs. Trump’s Evangelical Advisers

Clinton I have sinned

A taste:

Like the Old Testament prophet Nathan who confronted King David for committing adultery with Bathsheba, Campolo and MacDonald entered the president’s “court” as pastors — Christian leaders charged with the task of calling out sin and facilitating spiritual healing.

It’s hard to imagine something similar happening should Congress impeach Trump. The evangelical leaders he surrounds himself with are flatterers who are not likely to confront the president’s sin. They need Trump to continue to deliver on their agenda. I imagine most of them will affirm Trump’s belief that he has “done nothing wrong” and perhaps offer a lesson about the demonic forces seeking to undermine his presidency.

Read the entire piece here.

Michigan GOP Congressman: Impeach Trump

Amash

On the final evening of the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump came to Grand Rapids, Michigan to rally the faithful.  The next day he won Michigan, a state (along with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania) that carried him to the presidency.

Today Grand Rapids’s GOP congressman, libertarian Justin Amash, called for Trump’s impeachment.  Read Amash’s entire Twitter thread here.

Interesting notes:  Amash’s father is a Palestinian Christian and his mother is a Syrian Christian.  He was the valedictorian at Grand Rapids Christian High School–a school founded by the Christian Reformed Church. His wife Kara is a graduate of Calvin College in Grand Rapids.  He is a member of an Orthodox church.

The Mueller Report and the Trump Evangelicals

Mueller Report

I spent part of the weekend reading the Mueller Report. Nothing I have written below is new if you have been following the news coverage of the report or read it for yourself, but I thought I would use this space to jot down some of my notes as I processed it.

  • The Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.  In other words, it is possible that Donald Trump won in 2016 because of Russian help (Vol. 1:1).  Future historians should put an asterisk next to Trump’s victory in 2016.  We may never know how the Russians helped Trump, but they clearly interfered.
  • There are “numerous links” between the Russian interference in the U.S. election and the Trump presidential campaign (Vol 1:1).
  • The Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with the Russian government in its election interference activities (“collusion” is not a legal term), but it certainly came close.
  • The Russian Facebook campaign played to American fears.  These Russian-authored social media accounts and ads were promoted through retweets and responses to tweets by Sean Hannity, Roger Stone, Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Michael Flynn.  (Vol I: 26-27).  In other words, these people helped make the Russian interference effective.  (Of course none of these people knew they were retweeting and promoting the work of Russians).
  • The report presents the Trump campaign as chaotic and disorganized.  Several members of the campaign were working with Russia to help Trump get elected.  Some lied about it and got caught.  Others seemed to just get lucky that they did not do anything reaching the level of criminality.  Those who told the American people that there were no links between the Trump campaign and Russia included Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Kellyanne Conway, Mike Pence, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Trump himself.  (Thanks to Lawfare Blog for identifying these names and providing links).
  • It seems like most Trump supporters stopped reading the report after Volume 1.
  • Mueller says up-front that he respected the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and agreed not to indict a sitting President.  Yet he also says his office uncovered “potentially obstructive acts related to the Special Counsel’s investigation itself.” (Vol. 2:1)
  • Mueller reminds the readers that “a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.”  Why would he put that in the report if he did not think a legitimate case of obstruction could be made against Trump? (Vol 2:1). Perhaps the answer comes on p. 2:2: “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.  Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.  The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.  Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” In other words, Mueller may have found evidence of a possible indictment for obstruction, but could not bring an indictment because of the OLC guidance.  As several scholars have shown, including historians Julian Zelizer and Yoni Appelbaum, this is Mueller’s way of suggesting that it is the job of Congress to handle such behavior.  (Also 2:156-182).
  • Volume 2:3-7 reads like Mueller’s case for impeachment:
    • Trump lied about contacts with Russia
    • Trump tried to intimidate former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into  Michael Flynn’s ties with the Russian government. According to Mueller, there is “substantial evidence” to support Comey’s side of this story.  Trump denied that he asked everyone in the room to leave so he could pressure Comey to drop the investigation.  He lied about this.
    • Trump tried to get Jeff Sessions and several other members of the federal government to bring an end to the ongoing Russia investigation.  How is this not obstruction?
    • Trump fired FBI director James Comey and tried to make it look like he was fired for incompetence unrelated to the Russia probe. We now know that Comey was indeed fired because Trump did not like the Russia probe, despite the fact that the FBI director insisted that Trump was not under investigation.
    • Trump tried to get White House attorney Don McGahn to remove Mueller as Special Counsel.  McGahn told Trump that such a request was “silly” and “not real.” He would not do it.  Trump then told McGahn to deny press reports confirming that the president ordered him to have the Special Counsel removed. (2:114)
    • Trump tried to get Corey Lewandowski to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly declare that the Mueller investigation was “very unfair” to him.  Trump also wanted the probe limited to future election interference, rather than focus on the Russian election interference in 2016.  Lewandowski asked White House aid Rick Dearborn to get the message to Sessions.  Dearborn never delivered it.  This is one of many examples of Trump’s staff protecting an out-of-control and incompetent president motivated by his own narcissism, self-image, and personal vendettas.
    • Trump edited Donald Trump Jr.’s statement about a June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton to make it appear that the meeting was about adoption.  He and his personal lawyer then lied about the fact that he did this.
    • Trump pressured Jeff Sessions, on more than one occasion, to unrecuse himself from heading the Mueller investigation because he thought Sessions might fire Mueller.
    • After Flynn began cooperating with the Special Counsel, Trump tried to get Michael Flynn to give him a “heads up” about any “information that implicates the president”
    • Trump tried to manipulate Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen’s testimony before the Special Counsel. (2:138, 146)
  • On pages 2:9-12, Mueller lays out the five kinds of obstruction of justice under the heading “The Legal Framework of Obstruction of Justice.”  Wow!  It seems like Trump violated all five of these forms of obstruction.

The Bottom Line:

Donald Trump is a liar who clearly obstructed justice.  He has forced others to lie to the American people on his behalf.  Some, like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a self-professed evangelical Christian, lied for the president on multiple occasions.  (That is a lot of slips of the tongue). Others refused to lie for him. The Mueller report reveals that Trump’s presidency lacks a moral center.  He should be impeached.

And what about the court evangelicals and all of those other white evangelicals who still support Trump?  They will double down in their support for the president.  He is God’s chosen instrument and his evangelical supporters will invoke biblical examples of how God’s anointed instruments will always suffer persecution.  They will claim that the Mueller Report is biased (except, of course, the parts that say there was no collusion).  They will continue to stoke the “witch hunt” metaphor.   They will continue to take their marching orders from Fox News and claim that the report proves that Trump did not commit a crime.  They will argue that the country should simply move forward as if nothing happened.  They will ignore the parts of the report that show Trump’s immorality and lies.  Court evangelicalism blinds one to the truth.  For example:

What document are these guys reading?  It can’t be the Mueller report.  🙂

But perhaps a few pro-Trump evangelicals will see the light and finally realize, like Billy Graham eventually did with Richard Nixon, that Trump is not worthy of their support

Presidential Historian: “Trump has none of the traits the founders thought essential for presidents”

george-washington1Here is Jeffrey Engel, director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History:

This willingness to put country before self is why Washington’s presence lent legitimacy to the controversial convention, why delegates immediately voted him the presiding chair and why they ultimately designed the presidency with him in mind. Put simply, they trusted him and knew he would put America first.

Not every president would. “The first man put at the helm will be a good one,” Pennsylvania’s Benjamin Franklin assured the convention, probably nodding in Washington’s direction as he spoke. “Nobody knows what sort may come afterwards.”

So delegates designed a mechanism for removing a dangerous president, one who did what Washington never would: impeachment for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

That pesky phrase, “high crimes and misdemeanors” has befuddled Americans ever since. It shouldn’t. The Constitution’s authors understood that impeachable treachery need not, in fact, be a literal crime at all, but rather a demonstration that a president’s presence harmed the body politic, the people, either through maliciousness or selfishness.

For example, any president “who has practiced corruption” to win election, a Pennsylvania delegate argued, should be impeached. So, too, in the eyes of Virginia’s James Madison, should any president who “might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression,” or any who “betray[ed] his trust to foreign powers.”

And what of a president who used his immense pardon power to conceal his guilt, perhaps by promising a pardon to subordinates he ordered to break the law? They thought of that, too. “If the President be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person,” who schemed against the republic, Madison argued during ratification debates, “and there be grounds to believe he [the president] will shelter him,” impeachment should follow. No one debated the point.

Read the entire piece here.

“approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counselling witnesses with respect to…false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings.”

nixon

Here is Richard Nixon’s first article of impeachment. (In case anyone is interested today).

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, in that:

On June 17, 1972, and prior thereto, agents of the Committee for the Re-election of the President committed unlawful entry of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, District of Columbia, for the purpose of securing political intelligence. Subsequent thereto, Richard M. Nixon, using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such illegal entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.

The means used to implement this course of conduct or plan included one or more of the following:

  1. making false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States;
  2. withholding relevant and material evidence or information from lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States;
  3. approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counselling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States and false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings;
  4. interfering or endeavouring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, and Congressional Committees;
  5. approving, condoning, and acquiescing in, the surreptitious payment of substantial sums of money for the purpose of obtaining the silence or influencing the testimony of witnesses, potential witnesses or individuals who participated in such unlawful entry and other illegal activities;
  6. endeavouring to misuse the Central Intelligence Agency, an agency of the United States;
  7. disseminating information received from officers of the Department of Justice of the United States to subjects of investigations conducted by lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States, for the purpose of aiding and assisting such subjects in their attempts to avoid criminal liability;
  8. making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation had been conducted with respect to allegations of misconduct on the part of personnel of the executive branch of the United States and personnel of the Committee for the Re-election of the President, and that there was no involvement of such personnel in such misconduct: or
  9. endeavouring to cause prospective defendants, and individuals duly tried and convicted, to expect favoured treatment and consideration in return for their silence or false testimony, or rewarding individuals for their silence or false testimony.

In all of this, Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Historian Yoni Appelbaum Makes a Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump

If you are a fan of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, you will remember our interview in Episode 3 with Yoni Appelbaum, historian and IDEAS editor at The Atlantic.  In this piece, Appelbaum makes a case for the impeachment of Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

The oath of office is a president’s promise to subordinate his private desires to the public interest, to serve the nation as a whole rather than any faction within it. Trump displays no evidence that he understands these obligations. To the contrary, he has routinely privileged his self-interest above the responsibilities of the presidency. He has failed to disclose or divest himself from his extensive financial interests, instead using the platform of the presidency to promote them. This has encouraged a wide array of actors, domestic and foreign, to seek to influence his decisions by funneling cash to properties such as Mar-a-Lago (the “Winter White House,” as Trump has branded it) and his hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Courts are now considering whether some of those payments violate the Constitution.

More troubling still, Trump has demanded that public officials put their loyalty to him ahead of their duty to the public. On his first full day in office, he ordered his press secretary to lie about the size of his inaugural crowd. He never forgave his first attorney general for failing to shut down investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and ultimately forced his resignation. “I need loyalty. I expect loyalty,” Trump told his first FBI director, and then fired him when he refused to pledge it.

Trump has evinced little respect for the rule of law, attempting to have the Department of Justice launch criminal probes into his critics and political adversaries. He has repeatedly attacked both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. His efforts to mislead, impede, and shut down Mueller’s investigation have now led the special counsel to consider whether the president obstructed justice.

As for the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, Trump has repeatedly trampled upon them. He pledged to ban entry to the United States on the basis of religion, and did his best to follow through. He has attacked the press as the “enemy of the people” and barred critical outlets and reporters from attending his events. He has assailed black protesters. He has called for his critics in private industry to be fired from their jobs. He has falsely alleged that America’s electoral system is subject to massive fraud, impugning election results with which he disagrees as irredeemably tainted. Elected officials of both parties have repeatedly condemned such statements, which has only spurred the president to repeat them.

These actions are, in sum, an attack on the very foundations of America’s constitutional democracy.

Read the entire piece here.

Allen Guelzo on Why History Shows Impeachment May be a Bad Idea

Andrew_Johnson_impeachment_trial

Abraham Lincoln and Civil War scholar Allen Guelzo reminds us what happened when Andrew Johnson was impeached.  The subtitle of his recent Wall Street Journal piece is “Many members of Congress in 1868 hoped to remove a president they merely disliked.  It didn’t go well.”  Here is a taste:

If the Democrats win the House in November, they’ll come under pressure to impeach President Trump. Even if Robert Mueller fails to turn up some astounding surprise, many Democrats want to impeach Mr. Trump because they simply don’t like him. Since the Constitution specifies that a president can be impeached for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” such a move would mean Democrats consider being disliked by the House majority to be a disqualifying crime.

That is precisely what many members of Congress thought 150 years ago this week, at the conclusion of the first impeachment of a sitting president, Andrew Johnson. The 17th president’s impeachment offers the important lesson that although the mechanism for impeachment is easy, the subsequent process of trial, conviction and removal from office is not. A failure at that stage of the process covers everybody with embarrassment—impeachers and impeached alike.

 

Read the rest here.

Guelzo seems to be preparing for the Democrats to take the House.  It is definitely a possibility.

“Removing a President is an Ugly Process”

Johnson

Andrew Johnson

So writes Jon Grinspan, curator of political history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

In his Atlantic piece “The High Price of Presidential Impeachment,” Grinspan argues that the impeaching of a POTUS “can dangerously inflame tensions in an already divided nation.”

Here is a taste:

There were, in the late 1860s, real fears that impeachment could spark a second Civil War. That rebellion was barely over, and posed a number of unanswered questions. What did the nation owe to millions of freed slaves? How should the federal government treat Confederate leaders and seceded states? What should northerners do about the atrocious outbreaks of racist violence unfolding in cities like New Orleans and Memphis?

Things were little calmer in Washington. A victorious, sometimes-cocky, Republican Party controlled more than three-quarters of both houses of Congress. Yet in the White House sat Andrew Johnson, put into power not by a popular vote, but by Lincoln’s assassination. And Johnson, it was painfully clear, was hostile to blacks, lenient with rebels, and hell-bent on fighting Congress.

{President Andrew] Johnson was, possibly, the worst man to lead the country at such a tense moment. Racist, crude, and grumpy, Johnson nursed an incredible persecution complex. At best, he was a formerly illiterate tailor who had worked his way up from poverty to the most powerful position in the nation, like his fellow Tennessean and personal hero, Andrew Jackson. At worst, he was paranoid, resentful, narcissistic. Washington politicos described a man who “always hated somebody,” “always defeats himself,” and was “always worse than you expect.”

There were, still, millions who sided with Johnson. White Democrats, especially in the lower north and the south, felt overwhelmed by Republicans. To them, Republicans were social-justice warriors intent on revolutionizing race relations and centralizing Federal power; most Democrats just wanted to return to the old union and old Constitution. Such Democrats launched the most bitterly racist campaigns in American history, rallying behind Andrew Johnson as a symbol of their struggle against change.

Read the entire piece here.

Johnson, Not Jackson

Johnson

If you want to draw a historical analogy between Donald Trump and a previous POTUS, historian and writer Joshua Zeitz thinks that Andrew Johnson, not Andrew Jackson, “provides the best model for Trump’s collapsing presidency.”  Johnson, of course, was the first president to be impeached by Congress.

Here is a taste of Zeitz’s piece at Politico, “When Congress Almost Ousted a Failing President.”

It was an ugly scene that left reporters slack-jawed. The president of the United States—a man notoriously short of temper and stubborn in his disregard for polite convention—had addressed a howling throng of political supporters outside the White House. Rambling and incoherent, he managed to refer to himself over 200 times over the course of an otherwise wild, angry screed. He incited the crowd to violence against his political enemies, including prominent member of the House of Representatives. A moderate news outlet critically observed that he was “the first of our Presidents who has descended to the stump, and spoken to the people as if they were a mob.”

Though Donald J. Trump has attempted to situate his presidency in the tradition of Jacksonian populism, it is another Andrew—Andrew Johnson, the man who staged that lowly performance—who provides the more apt comparison. A full-throated white supremacist and rabble-rousing populist, Johnson—who came to power in 1865 after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination—offended friends and foes alike with his unrestrained rhetoric and rash exercise of executive authority. As president, he veered from one self-manufactured crisis to another. His political enemies suspected that he colluded closely with enemies of the state.

And Zeitz concludes:

But for Democrats, and some Republicans, who quietly hope for Trump’s impeachment and removal, the case of Johnson offers only cold comfort. In 1868, Congress established a high bar for presidential removal. It’s not enough to be obnoxious or racist, nor to incite violence and mismanage affairs of state, nor even to collude spiritually with enemies of the American government. Precedent establishes that to be removed from office, a president must manifestly violate the law, as was the case with Richard Nixon, whose far-reaching and well-documented efforts to obstruct justice, evade taxes and suborn criminal conspiracy would almost certainly have resulted in impeachment and conviction had he not resigned first.

We’re a long way from that. And Democrats opposed to Trump will have to do what Johnson’s opponents did: rely on the president to undermine his own credibility and capacity to govern, one crazy speech (or tweet), and one ill-considered action, at a time.

Read the entire piece here.

Is the Trump Wiretapping Accusation an Impeachable Offense?

wiretapping

I don’t know.

But Bloomberg columnist and Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman thinks it might be.  Here is a taste of his recent column:

The sitting president has accused his predecessor of an act that could have gotten the past president impeached. That’s not your ordinary exercise of free speech. If the accusation were true, and President Barack Obama ordered a warrantless wiretap of Donald Trump during the campaign, the scandal would be of Watergate-level proportions.

But if the allegation is not true and is unsupported by evidence, that too should be a scandal on a major scale. This is the kind of accusation that, taken as part of a broader course of conduct, could get the current president impeached. We shouldn’t care that the allegation was made early on a Saturday morning on Twitter.

In a rule of law society, government allegations of criminal activity must be followed by proof and prosecution. If not, the government is ruling by innuendo.

Shadowy dictatorships can do that because there is no need for proof. Democracies can’t.

Thus, an accusation by a president isn’t like an accusation leveled by one private citizen against another. It’s about more than factual truth or carelessness.

The government’s special responsibility has two bases. One is that you can’t sue the government for false and defamatory speech. If I accused Obama of wiretapping my phone, he could sue me for libel. If my statement was knowingly false, I’d have to pay up. On the other hand, if the president makes the same statement, he can’t be sued in his official capacity. And a private libel suit mostly likely wouldn’t go anywhere against a sitting president — for good reason, because the president shouldn’t be encumbered by lawsuits while in office.

The second reason the government has to be careful about making unprovable allegations is that its bully pulpit is greater than any other. True, as an ex-president, Obama can defend himself publicly and has plenty of access to the news media. But even he doesn’t have the audience that Trump now has. And essentially any other citizen would have far less capacity to mount a defense than Obama.

For these reasons, it’s a mistake to say simply that Trump’s accusation against Obama is protected by the First Amendment.

False and defamatory speech isn’t protected by the First Amendment.

Read the entire piece here.