Michael Waldman: The Founders on Impeachment and Foreign Interference in U.S. Elections

– Impeachment is a core constitutional power and responsibility. It’s one of those things
in our American system that’s actually worked very well. It has not been overused. It hasn’t generally been something that each party does to the other whenever they get a chance. Only three times in American history has it ever really been
seriously considered to impeach the president by Congress. The framers of the Constitution
included impeachment because they wanted to make sure that the president wouldn’t be somebody who would abuse their
power or break the law. There’s a lot of echoes in that in what Donald Trump is being accused of: using the power of the presidency to try to push a foreign leader to smear domestic opponents and then trying to cover it up. The idea that a president
of the United States would go to a foreign country
for help in interfering in our domestic American election is exactly the kind of thing that they designed
impeachment for back in 1787. The framers cared about this a lot. Something like impeachment gave teeth to checks and balances. It was a critical part of their idea of the new system of
government we were creating. You can be impeached
for treason or bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors. That doesn’t mean just a particular kind
of criminal violation – like shooting someone on
Fifth Avenue, for example. It has to be abuse of
power, abuse of office, something that really rips the fabric of the constitutional order. In pundit shorthand, people ask, “Is this like Nixon in
1974, or Clinton in 1998?” I think that, in terms of
the underlying conduct, it’s much closer to Nixon in ’74, abuse of power and abuse of office. With Bill Clinton, who I
worked for in the White House, he lied in a deposition in a civil lawsuit about a personal affair. People ultimately concluded that Clinton had done something wrong, but that it was a personal failing, not the kind of high crime and misdemeanor that the Constitution says should lead to removal from office. Nixon, in 1974, wasn’t charged with breaking into the
Democratic headquarters with the burglars, but he was charged with violating the Constitution
with paying hush money, with covering up, with lying to Congress, all in the service of his
own political interests. This is really regarded
as a text book example of how to hold an abusive
chief executive accountable. We don’t know everything. We do know, so far, that Donald Trump has admitted pressuring a foreign leader to smear his domestic political opponents. We’ve learned from the whistleblower that there was a coverup effort, that went throughout the government by the president’s allies. The framers really believed that our republic had
to be run by and for us. To them, foreign government
interfering in our elections, an American president reaching out for foreign help for political advantage is exactly the kind of thing
they designed impeachment for.

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