We’ll answer the question outright: Yes. Trump’s lawyers have argued that his activities as POTUS do not rise to the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors, the bar required for a public official’s impeachment. They say that articles of impeachment must relate to a crime committed (which is contradictory to arguments already explored by the president’s supporters, i.e. that he can’t even be impeached no matter what, because he’s president).
But is that true?
It comes down to what the framers of the United States Constitution actually meant when they used those words. To know that, we need to know the definitions of “high crimes and misdemeanors” as they were in the late 1700s when the clause was actually written into the document.
The definitions of those words back then were a lot different than they are now. Generally, they described behavior by public officials who had violated the public trust in some way. Alexander Hamilton — one of our Founding Fathers — said as much in his Federalist Paper No. 65. And that’s very much in line with how public officials have actually been impeached since the provision was written.
There’s a lot of precedent for impeachment, but law professor Frank Bowman says that it basically gets thrown out every time someone new is put through the gauntlet. “The defenders of the impeached officer always argue, always, that a crime is required. And every time that misconception has to be knocked down again.”
He exemplified the meaning behind his statement further: “Let’s say the president were to wake up tomorrow morning and says, ‘All this impeachment stuff is kind of getting on my nerves. I think I’m going to Barbados for six months. Don’t call me, I’ll call you,’ and just cuts off all contact and refuses to do his duty.”
“That’s not a crime,” he says. “It’s not violating a law. But could we impeach him? Of course we could — otherwise what’s the remedy? We have a country without a president.”
Gerald Ford famously said: “An impeachable offense is whatever the majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”
Although many legal scholars might take issue with that statement, and there’s also a lot of precedent that goes into the decision-making process, it’s certainly more in line with the truth.
Oh, and news flash: the president did commit a crime. The Government Accountability Office finally released its report on whether or not the Trump administration broke the law by withholding Congressionally appropriated monies from Ukraine, ruling that, indeed, he did.
“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the ruling explained. “OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act.”