Doing Impeachment Right

We’re all in for impeachment. We should make the most of it. Let’s assure that no holder of public office will ever again invoke the aid of a foreign power to investigate potential crimes by candidates or potential candidates for office. In pursuing this goal, we should be mindful that we only need probable cause to hold such office holders accountable. Some believe that an explicit quid pro quo needs to be identified. In the relations among states, however, every transaction or interaction involves a quid pro quo, whether tacit or explicit. Consequently, it suffices that a request was made to create evidence of a violation. Thereafter, it falls to Congress to act whenever the evidence becomes manifest.

The present evidence, however, renders uncertain just how broadly an impeachment action should be extended. It is obvious that President Trump is the immediate target. But that is a rather short-sighted view of the subject.

We should remember just what the power of impeachment means. Two punishments are attached to it. One is the removal from office, and the other is the bar to future office under the Constitution.

It would be a capital mistake to think that impeachment is relevant only in the case of a present office holder. That is the reason some people urged, after Richard Nixon resigned, that he should nonetheless be impeached. That would have guaranteed he would never again be eligible to serve. It is important, therefore, to observe that impeachment may be advanced against people either in or out of office.

Since over the past three-and-a-half years we have witnessed numerous examples of office holders in the executive branch—the director of the FBI, CIA director, Justice Department officials, and others engaging foreign governments specifically to investigate a potential crime or crimes by a candidate for president, every single one of these would be an appropriate target of impeachment.

Even in the cases where they are no longer in office, it would be important to bar them forever after from holding office. In fact, this is so important, that I would even be willing to sacrifice President Trump if in doing so we could assure that none of the offenders of the past several years would ever again be entrusted with public authority.

Needless to insist, the same standard would apply to former Vice President Joe Biden, insofar as his self-described Corleone routine could be understood as interfering with another nation’s criminal investigation that potentially implicated a likely candidate for the presidency. Congress has never investigated this infraction, but it is still appropriate for articles of impeachment to be filed. Moreover, the investigation has already been detailed in the Mueller Report. Thus, all that remains is to vote.

If we are going to impeach, let’s go all in and do it right!

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About William B. Allen

W. B. Allen is Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy at Michigan State University and a pastor at First Baptist Church in Havre de Grace, Maryland.

Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for MoveOn Political Action

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