AEI: Alexander got it right: It takes more to remove a president

Posted on February 4, 2020

AEI: Alexander got it right: It takes more to remove a president

By Robert Doar: President, American Enterprise Institute; Morgridge Scholar

February 1, 2020

“It was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation. When elected officials inappropriately interfere with such investigations, it undermines the principle of equal justice under the law. But the Constitution does not give the Senate the power to remove the president from office and ban him from this year’s ballot simply for actions that are inappropriate.”

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander’s words reminded me of the struggle my father, John Doar, had as he considered whether the conduct of President Richard Nixon was so serious that it should lead the House to impeach him and the Senate to remove him from office. Dad was in charge of the House Judiciary Committee staff, which took seven months (between December 1973 and July 1974) to examine the evidence and consider the question. What he concluded, and what the House Judiciary Committee by bipartisan majorities also found, was that Nixon deserved impeachment and removal for a pattern of conduct over a multi-year period that both obstructed justice and abused power.

So the first article, concerning obstruction of justice, found that Nixon and his subordinates had tampered with witnesses and interfered with the Department of Justice’s investigations. They had paid hush money and attempted to misuse the CIA. And they had lied repeatedly to investigators and the American people.

On abuse of power, Nixon was found to have misused his authority over the IRS, the FBI, the CIA, and the Secret Service to defeat political opponents and protect himself, and in the process he had violated the constitutional rights of citizens. After he came under suspicion, he tried to manipulate these agencies to interfere with the investigation.

President Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine, though inappropriate, differs significantly from Nixon’s in one crucial respect. Where Nixon’s impeachable abuse of power occurred over a period of several years, the conduct challenged by the House’s impeachment of Trump was not nearly as prolonged. From July to September of last year, Trump attempted to cajole a foreign government to open an investigation into his political opponent. That conduct was wrong. But it’s not the same as what Nixon did over multiple years.

This contrast brings to light a critical difference between the House’s behavior in 1974 and its efforts today. When Nixon’s actions came to light, the House conducted an impeachment the right way: The House Judiciary Committee took seven months to examine all of the evidence, built up a theory of the case which matched the Constitution’s requirements, and produced charges that implicated the president and his subordinates in a pattern of impeachable conduct. Faced with certain impeachment and removal from office, Nixon resigned. What Trump attempted to do, as Alexander rightly sees, is not that.

Alexander is right about one other thing — we should let the people decide who our next president should be.