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Understanding impeachment

Posted By David Limbaugh On 10/02/1998 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

While not conceding that he has engaged in high crimes and
misdemeanors, the White House and Democratic pundits are contending that
President Clinton should not be impeached, irrespective of whether he
has committed impeachable offenses. They argue that impeachment (and
conviction) would be wrong for a number of reasons, including that it
would thwart the will of the people by overturning his election and
ignoring his high approval ratings. They also maintain that his policies
are too important to be interrupted by his removal from office.

While decrying the Republicans for partisanship and politicizing the
process, it is the Democrats who are expediently injecting political
issues into what should be a legal matter. The framers understood that
political and partisan pressure would be brought to bear on any effort
to remove a sitting president. Hamilton, in Federalist No. 65, said that
impeachable conduct was “misconduct by public men, or, in other words,
from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” He explained that
this conduct was “political” in nature in that it would relate chiefly
to injuries done immediately to the society itself. Some people have
conveniently misconstrued and taken out of context his use of the term
“political.” Hamilton used the term only to describe the nature of the
conduct, not the process. For in the very next sentences he acknowledged
that the process may become partisan and that such a result was to be
scrupulously avoided. In fact, he explains, the framers vested the
Senate with the power to try cases of impeachment precisely because it
was the body most likely to remain impartial and independent in the
process. So serious is the removal remedy that the framers required that
conviction occur only on a vote of two-thirds of the Senate.

Conspicuously absent from the text of the Constitution and from any
of the historical writings explaining it, is a requirement that either
the House or the Senate in determining whether to impeach and convict,
respectively, weigh the president’s perceived performance in office, his
current popularity or his policy initiatives against his alleged
impeachable offenses. It would have been inappropriate, illegal and
unconstitutional, for example, for Congress to have declined to impeach
President Nixon because of his revolutionary and exceedingly popular
“door-opening” policies with China.

The Constitution is very clear and quite explicit that the only
issues for Congress to determine in impeachment cases is whether the
president in fact committed the alleged acts and whether those acts
constitute high crimes and misdemeanors. These issues must be decided in
a trial before the United States Senate with the Chief Justice of the
United States Supreme Court presiding.

Impeachment is not criminal in nature and does not involve criminal
punishment of the accused. The only permitted actions on conviction are
removal from office and disqualification from holding public office in
the future. The purpose of impeachment is not to punish the accused, but
to preserve the integrity of the Republic by purging miscreants from and
restoring dignity and honor to the office.

The White House has been engaged in systematically undermining the
rule of law for the duration of this investigation and it continues in
that posture today. The president has done everything within his power
to obstruct the grand jury, which was convened for the purpose of
gathering and considering evidence of possible impeachable offenses and
crimes by the president and other members of the administration, from
performing its duties. The president has caused many of his subordinates
to lie to the grand jury, has attempted to corruptly persuade Monica
Lewinsky to lie in the Jones Deposition and to the grand jury, has
refused to answer questions and lied to the grand jury and has
interposed a number of phony privilege claims all to obstruct justice.

In addition to his actions directly impeding the process of the grand
jury, he has overtly attempted to subvert the Constitution by converting
this from a legal matter into a political one. Rather than arguing his
case on the merits, he has stonewalled, obstructed and viciously
attacked his accusers. Instead of otherwise submitting to the process he
has endeavored to corrupt the public debate and further debase the
Constitution and rule of law by: 1) convincing the people that his
objectively immoral, reckless and illegal behavior is not in fact
immoral or illegal; 2) arguing that even if his conduct is wrong and
criminal “greater ends” justify retaining him in office; 3) improperly
hiring private investigators to discover and expose embarrassing conduct
on the part of Congressmen and other perceived political enemies; 4)
suggesting that the unconstitutional remedy of censure and fine be
substituted for impeachment.

The president has done and will continue to do everything both within
and beyond his power to corrupt the Constitutional process known as
impeachment. The framers were aware that partisan blood would flow
during such emotionally and politically charged times, but did
everything in their power to prevent the impeachment process from
becoming partisan or political. It is the solemn duty of Congress to
determine the issues before them in the manner prescribed by the framers
and not to be sidetracked, intimidated or pressured into considering
other factors neither contemplated nor sanctioned by the Constitution.
That means that Congressmen from neither party should be swayed by
partisan or popular considerations. The matter before them is gravely
serious. It is now a legal matter that must be decided on the merits,
and irrespective of the polls or other extraneous issues.

While Congress has yet to decide whether his actions are impeachable
and warrant conviction, the evidence is overwhelming that the chief
executive officer of the United States has engaged in a pattern of
conduct designed to mislead the courts, thwart the rule of law and
undermine the Constitution. The framers provided a legal method for
dealing with such behavior on the part of a rogue president. The
prospective integrity of the Constitution and the rule of law depend
solely on Congress, because this president has demonstrated his utter
contempt for our system. Congress will either rise to the occasion by
resisting the political, partisan and popular pressure to resolve these
issues on a extra-constitutional basis and adhere to its constitutional
duties or it will become a co-conspirator with this president in the
destruction of this unique constitutional Republic. Regardless of
whether it decides to impeach and or convict, Congress itself must act
in conformity with its constitutional mandate. If Congress is unwilling
to uphold the rule of law it might as well surrender the flag. The
profound magnitude of the task before it is immeasurably greater than
the abstract legacy to be attributed to it in academic history books.
Undermining the rule of law is the first step towards eradicating our
personal liberties because our liberties depend on the principle of
limited, but orderly government that our founding fathers so carefully
and ingeniously incorporated into our Constitution. The burden is on
Congress either to vindicate or nullify the blood of our American

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