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Opinion The House Should Go Big in Framing Impeachment Articles Against Trump

19:26  05 december  2019
19:26  05 december  2019 Source:   nytimes.com

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Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

a close up of a logo: A definition of high crimes and misdemeanors is shown on a screen during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.© Erin Schaff/The New York Times A definition of high crimes and misdemeanors is shown on a screen during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

For House Democrats, there is a powerful temptation to narrow the grounds for impeachment. By adhering to a simple narrative about President Trump’s criminal actions in relation to Ukraine, they hope it will be easier to mobilize public support than if they levied a more complex set of charges.

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In the impeachment of Richard Nixon, the Democratic-controlled Judiciary Committee faced a similar choice. Despite significant dissent, the committee ended up limiting itself to three articles of impeachment, all connected to the domestic crimes of Watergate.

But as House committee chairmen begin the process of drawing up articles of impeachment, it is worth considering that its findings and their scope will reverberate through time. Long after the next election, they will condition how Americans look upon this period of our history and what correctives might be found.

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For Nixon’s impeachment, there was actually a fourth article of impeachment. It encompassed more serious offenses and incited intense debate among the members. Introduced by Representative John Conyers of Michigan, it charged the president with “the submission to the Congress of false and misleading statements concerning the existence, scope and nature of American bombing operations in Cambodia in derogation of the power of Congress to declare war, to make appropriations and to raise and support armies.”

With regard to Cambodia, the illegality of Nixon’s behavior was clear-cut. The potential fourth article of impeachment referred to the fact that for 14 months, before the United States’ invasion, the president approved hundreds of B-52 strikes on that country. The covert mission first came to light in July 1973, when retired Maj. Hal Knight testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that in his capacity as the supervisor of radar crews in South Vietnam, he had helped falsify the records of at least two dozen missions by disguising American airstrikes in Cambodia as attacks inside South Vietnam.

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By the time the Judiciary Committee was considering impeachment, the tragic consequences of America’s military intervention in Cambodia were clear. The relatively stable government of Prince Sihanouk had been overthrown, the society was consumed by civil war, an insurgent Khmer Rouge had morphed into a major force and thousands of Cambodian civilians had been displaced or killed.

In introducing Article IV, Mr. Conyers and other liberal colleagues were trying to show how the crimes of Watergate were directly tied to the excesses of the Vietnam War. Yet it was partly for this reason that the committee chairman, Peter Rodino, wanted to scrap the item. In his assessment, too tight a link between the process of impeachment and the Vietnam War would be needlessly divisive at a time when he was seeking consensus and bipartisanship.

A Massachusetts congressman, the Rev. Robert Drinan, argued that “the process of picking articles of impeachment” should not be determined by “whether they will fly,” rather than the gravity of the infraction. The founding fathers had recognized that “the ultimate tyranny was war carried on illegally by the executive without the knowledge or consent of Congress,” and that issue was at the heart of Article IV.

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While few disputed that the bombing of Cambodia was a serious constitutional violation, several members argued that presidents in earlier administrations were equally culpable. Representative John Seiberling, Democrat of Ohio, acknowledged that “the issue is the falsification of information, the misleading of Congress, the failure to consult Congress on a matter as grave as an act of war.” Such behavior was truly reprehensible. Yet nevertheless, Mr. Seiberling said, “we should not use our impeachment power to impeach” Nixon for “for acts of the sort other Presidents have taken with impunity. … ”

Those who supported Article IV were more interested in making a statement about the abuse of executive power in Cambodia than in whether Nixon’s abuses were comparable to those of other presidents. Representative Wayne Owens, Democrat of Utah, hoped “we will set down a standard for presidents and future wars, that something positive will come out” of the sad proceeding.

In the end, Mr. Rodino’s desire for consensus held sway. When the roll was called on Article IV, every Republican voted against it, as did nine of their Democratic colleagues. Only the first three Watergate-related articles were approved. The practical effect was to obscure the deeper constitutional issues that were raised by the administration’s misconduct. Or as those who had supported Article IV put it: “By failing to recommend the impeachment of President Nixon for the deception of Congress and the American public as to an issue as grave as the systematic bombing of a neutral country, we implicitly accept the argument that any ends — even those a president believes are legitimate — justify unconstitutional means.”

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After the fact, you could reasonably argue that the particulars of the impeachment articles made no practical difference — that what mattered was that the Judiciary Committee had found President Nixon guilty and unfit for office, a finding that led him to resign before the House of Representatives commenced its full impeachment deliberations. Yet by failing to address the lawless bombing of Cambodia and the tragic results, the committee framed how the events of that time have been remembered.

Ask anyone under the age of 50 about Nixon’s presidency and the first word is likely to be “Watergate.” The second is “impeachment.” Ask what this is about and the probable answer is “something about a break-in and a cover-up.” Shameful as Watergate was, it was not nearly so serious a violation of law as the covert bombing of Cambodia. One of America’s foremost historians, Henry Steele Commager, observed that Nixon had won a strategic victory “in the realm of public and perhaps even congressional opinion” by successfully “concentrating attention on Watergate and its associated chicaneries.”

After three years in which the Trump administration has run roughshod over constitutional procedures and individual rights, the need for a broader response seems clear. This is essential, even if the Senate Republicans behave as expected and vote against the removal of the president. For now, the challenge for House committees is to use the mechanism, providing by the founding fathers, to reassert abiding principles of democratic governance.

This article has been updated to reflect news developments.

Carolyn Eisenberg is a professor of United States history and foreign policy at Hofstra University.

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Lindsey Graham invites Rudy Giuliani to Judiciary panel to discuss recent Ukraine visit .
"Rudy, if you want to come and tell us what you found, I'll be glad to talk to you,” Lindsey Graham says.In an interview airing on Face the Nation Sunday, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said that Giuliani, who is serving as the president’s personal attorney, could appear before his committee separately from the impending Senate impeachment trial.

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