High Crimes and Misdemeanors


Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel wrote October 3, “Donald Trump should not have been on the phone with a foreign head of state encouraging another country to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden. Some Republicans are trying, but there’s no way to spin this as a good idea.” They conclude, though, that it’s “hard to argue” that the phone call “rises to the level of an impeachable offense.”

I think that’s about right. I read the summary of the conversation between Trump and the Ukrainian president. It’s sloppy and unpresidential. The way to deal with it is to expose it, denounce it, and maybe laugh about it. Which has been done.

Americans have removed presidents from office many times — by denying them reelection, by persuading them not to run again, and by passing the twenty-second amendment. In 230 years Congress has never actually removed a president through the full process of impeachment, though in Richard Nixon’s case it came close enough to force him to resign. But remember what Nixon did. A team of burglars broke in to the national office of the political party opposing his reelection, seeking damaging information; Nixon helped to cover this up. What did Trump do? He suggested that the president of Ukraine investigate Joe Biden and his son, an action that was improper for him to suggest. A US president, acting under the authority of his office, should not ask a foreign president to do something that might help him in his attempt to be reelected. Investigating the Bidens is not wrong in itself, though. It’s probably a good idea.

The way to deal with Trump's conduct is to expose it, denounce it, and maybe laugh about it. Which has been done.

And think, too, of the high crimes and misdemeanors of other presidents. Franklin Roosevelt pushed through blatantly unconstitutional legislation in 1933, and when the Supreme Court tossed it out, he tried to subvert the Court. That is corrupting the balance of power under the constitution. It was such a gross and un-American act that the most solidly Democratic Congress in the 20th century, composed mostly of his poodles, stopped him from doing it.

After Japan attacked the United States, Roosevelt signed an executive order to round up 110,000 Japanese Americans on the Pacific Coast and put them behind barbed wire. This was also blatantly unconstitutional, and, according to the FBI, not necessary. But there was a war on, and the public, the press, the Congress and the Court all let him do it. They didn’t condemn him, either, when the military under his command firebombed Dresden and Tokyo, or when he announced the policy of unconditional surrender, which likely prolonged the war. During the war, he also issued an executive order seizing the soft-coal mines to stop a strike by the United Mine Workers — an act that, when Harry Truman did it with the steel mills, would be found unconstitutional. Roosevelt cared nothing about the constitutional limits on his power. But the American people elected him four times, effectively making him president for life. Congress put his head on the dime, and the historians say he was the greatest president of the 20th century. No impeachment for him.

In 1945, Harry Truman authorized the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, which probably was not necessary, and then on Nagasaki, which clearly was not. If the Germans had done it, it would have been a war crime subject to prosecution at Nuremburg. In 1950 Truman took the country into the Korean War without a declaration of war or an “authorization for the use of military force” from Congress. Truman got an OK from the UN Security Council, but the law of the land said he needed one from Congress, and he didn’t bother to ask. In 1952, Truman seized the American steel mills by executive order in order to settle a labor dispute. That time, the Supreme Court, which was made up entirely of Democratic appointees, said his order was unconstitutional.

The historians now say Truman was “near-great.” And the neocons revere him.

FDR attempted such a gross and un-American act that the most solidly Democratic Congress in the 20th century, composed mostly of his poodles, stopped him from doing it.

Lyndon Johnson did ask for an authorization to join the war in Southeast Asia — the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution — but it was based on a false report that a US ship was attacked in international waters, without having violated the waters of North Vietnam. Almost 40 years later, George W. Bush asked for an authorization to start a war — not join one, start one — against Iraq, based on a false report that Iraq was developing a nuclear weapon. Johnson’s and Bush’s wars killed hundreds of thousands of foreigners.

Sum it up. We’ve had presidents who pushed through unconstitutional laws and tried to neuter the Supreme Court; who put more than 100,000 people in concentration camps without due process of law; who approved the killing of hundreds of thousands of foreign women, children, and old men in war; who took the nation to war based on falsehoods that they should have known were false (and maybe did); who went to war without authorization; and who seized the industrial properties of Americans without authorization. We’ve also had presidents who authorized illegal wiretaps, illegal spying, the removal of foreign governments, corruption of foreign elections, on and on.

Since Nixon, the only attempt to remove a president from office had to do with his lying about sex with an intern. And now comes a push to impeach a president over an improper suggestion made during a telephone call to a foreign ruler.

Harry Truman authorized the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, which probably was not necessary, and then on Nagasaki, which clearly was not.

I note also that a push to impeach Trump has existed ever since his election. His political opponents staged public protest marches against him before he had a chance to do anything. Now they go “Aha! We gotcha! A smoking gun!”

I run a risk by writing these words, because after they are published, a real “smoking gun” may pop up. Maybe, but it needs to be worse than this.

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Michael F.S.W. Morrison

Very good article, by Bruce Ramsey, and very good comment by Thomas L. Knapp.
But I think Mr. Knapp, one of our great thinkers, is reaching in his definition.
And I think Mr. Ramsey has it right, under the seeming fact that there was no "quid pro quo."
How can it be a crime to ask for an investigation of what seems to be a rather public act of pressure?
Unless I am mistaken, and I often am about the "news," didn't Joe Biden very publicly brag about using pressure to get the original Ukrainian investigator fired?
And if that is true, why would it be wrong for Trump, or anybody else, to politely ask the Ukraine government to investigate -- never mind that the Bidens are corrupt members of the corrupt "other party" -- in quotes because there are at least two national "other parties."
As Mr. Ramsey suggests, more information might be made available as times passes.
In the meantime, however, it truly is more "piling on" against Trump.
And I see it all as further evidence of our desperate need for more parties and more candidates on every ballot, and an even more desperate need for Ranked Choice or Instant Runoff voting.

Thomas L. Knapp

Treaties, according to the US Constitution, are part of the "Supreme law of the land."

Trump admits that he 1) asked Ukraine's president for an investigation, 2) by phone.

The US treaty with Ukraine on mutual assistance in investigations says that such requests are to be made 1) by the US Attorney general or his designate, 2) in writing.

"High Crimes" are defined not by the specific nature of the crimes themselves, but in terms of their commission being enabled by power. That is, they are crimes committed by someone in a "high" position that allows them to commit those crimes.

Donald Trump has publicly confessed to, and provided corroborating documentation of, two "high crimes."

Michael F.S.W. Morrison

Thomas Knapp, it is an honor to have you respond and for me to be allowed to respond to you. As I said, you are one of our great thinkers.
Therefore, it might seem impertinent for someone as insignificant as I to ask, but where is your proof that the "high" refers to the position of the alleged miscreant?
Not doubting, mind you, but since I've never heard this definition, I would like some evidence.
Many thanks.

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