IMPEACHMENT TALK IN the nation's capital rose from a murmur to a dull roar in mid-May, thanks to a week jam-packed with Nixonesque "White House horrors." On Tuesday, May 9, President Donald Trump summarily fired FBI director James Comey; on Thursday, Trump admitted the FBI investigation into "this Russia thing"--attempts to answer questions about his campaign's links with Moscow--was a key reason for the firing; Friday found Trump warning Comey he'd "better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations"; and the following Tuesday The New York Times reported the existence of a Comey memo on Trump's efforts to get the FBI director to "let this go." Along the way, Trump may have "jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State" while bragging to Russian diplomats about his "great intel," according to The Washington Post.
Still, the Beltway discussion of impeachment remained couched in euphemism, as if there was something vaguely profane and disreputable about the very idea. "The elephant in the room," an NPR story observed, "is the big 'I' word--impeachment"; "the T word that I think we should use right now is 'investigation,'" House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
We don't call it "the v-word" when the president signals he might veto a bill. Yet somehow, when it comes to the constitutional procedure for ejecting an unfit president, journalists and Congress members--grown-ups, ostensibly--are reduced to the political equivalent of "h-e-double-hockey-sticks."
What's really obscene is America's record on presidential impeachments. We've made only three serious attempts in our entire constitutional history: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998--both of whom were impeached but escaped removal--and Richard Nixon, who quit in 1974 before the House could vote on the issue. Given how many bastards and clowns we've been saddled with over the years, shouldn't we manage the feat more than once a century?
A 'NATIONAL INQUEST INTO THE CONDUCT OF PUBLIC MEN'
IMPEACHMENTS "WILL SELDOM fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties," Alexander Hamilton predicted in the Federalist. That's how it played out during our last national debate on the subject, during the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio of the late '90s.
The specter of Bill Clinton's removal from office for perjury and obstruction of justice drove legal academia to new heights of creativity. Scads of concerned law professors strained to come up with a definition of "high Crimes and Misdemeanors" narrow enough to let Bill slide. In a letter delivered to Congress as the impeachment debate began, over 430 of them warned that unless the House of Representatives wanted to "dangerously weaken the office of the presidency for the foreseeable future" (heaven forfend), the standard had to be "grossly heinous criminality or grossly derelict misuse of official power."
Some of the academy's leading lights, not previously known for devotion...