By: Mary Reduzzi
There has been much speculation regarding the recent events leading up to the fourth presidential impeachment process in American history. President Trump may have committed an impeachable offense, but what the Constitution deems as such blurs the clarity of the line drawn between legal and illegal implementations put forth by the president. By analyzing the Constitution further, United States federal courts can clarify whether Trump’s call to the Ukranian president violates his Executive rights. However, the big question remains: what would the framers of the document itself say? Through the use of historical analysis, Article II. Section 4 of the United States Constitution, and the declassified transcript of the phone call in question, it is clear why the framers would not consider this act an impeachable offense.
The Constitution, ratified in 1788, was written by men during a time when the news was delivered by horseback and official business between two nations often took months to transpire. The framers were unable to fathom the means of communication society utilizes today, and they left the causes for impeachment quite vague. According to the constitution, “The President shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” 1 Clearly, the writers could not specifically affirm that any president who calls a president of another country on the phone with intent to hurt a political rival, with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice, would be impeachable. The interpretation of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is what makes the Constitution difficult to use in the argument for and against Trump’s impeachment. Historically, this term has been used throughout English Parliament to impeach officials of the crown who abused their power and were proven unfit to serve. 2 Be that as it may, the framers were more interested in protecting the well-being of the
1 U.S Const., art. II, § 4.
public, and sought to protect against a President or officer explicitly harming the people as a whole, not just using his power unjustly to benefit himself and/or a group of supporters. That being said, an impeachable offense, according to the Constitution, can simply be interpreted as a crime committed against the general public.
Trump may not have directly endangered the citizens of the United States, but the controversial content within his phone call to Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky may prove to be a violation of his Executive powers. “Legal experts say Trump’s call with Zelensky, in which he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter and may have implicitly tied foreign aid money to the request, may not have violated the letter of the law.” 3 This 30-minute phone call did not involve payment to an individual government official and was not for business purposes, which protects Trump from an accusation consisting of bribery. The Justice Department’s Criminal Division also reviewed the call and reported that there was no campaign finance law violation. 4 President Trump firmly believes it is his right to forcefully investigate corruption with the help of other countries, and his motive, attempting to tear down a Democratic candidate, does not appear to be an injury done immediately to society itself. However, the abuse of a foreign law enforcement investigation for personal political gain is in the process of being labeled an impeachable offense on the grounds that Trump’s actions were not illegal, but may warrant his removal from office. 5
2 Berenson, Tessa. “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” crf-usa.org. Sept. 25, 2019. Accessed Oct. 3, 2019. https://www.crf-usa.org/impeachment/high-crimes-and-misdemeanors.html
3 “Why Donald Trump’s Ukraine Call Could Be An Impeachable Offense.” Time.com. Accessed Oct. 3, 2019. https://time.com/5686104/trump-ukraine-call-impeachment-offense/
The framers of the Constitution deemed impeachment a type of “check” towards Executive power and left the means of removal from office somewhat vague. There is no immediate evidence of treason, bribery, or crime committed by the President, and during the time the Constitution was ratified, political leaders were under much less scrutiny while collaborating with each other. Further, due to the fact that the framers interpreted impeachable offenses like those in English Parliament, as crimes and abuses of power done against the public, President Trump’s phone call to the Ukranian President would not seem as threatening as it does today. The increasingly-oppositional and highly-competitive party-system in the United States today strongly differs from the party-system found in 1788. The call that was made to jeopardize potential future presidential candidate Joe Biden is outrageous to American citizens who are heavily Democratic solely because he is Democratic, and feel more personally attacked than citizens in 1788 would feel. This raises the question of whether or not this “misdemeanor” directly injures the public and the members of the Constitutional Congress when they met for the first time so many years ago would say no, simply because party-politics have changed so drastically.
Berenson, Tessa. “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” crf-usa.org. Sept 25, 2019. Accessed
Oct. 3, 2019. https://www.crf-usa.org/impeachment/high-crimes-and-misdemeanors.html
U.S Const., art. II, § 4. Accessed Oct. 3, 2019.
“Why Donald Trump’s Ukraine Call Could Be An Impeachable Offense.” Time.com. Accessed
Oct. 3, 2019. https://time.com/5686104/trump-ukraine-call-impeachment-offense/