As the House Judiciary Committee considers impeachment, there are three important questions for it to answer. Did President Trump violate his oath of office? If so, did his misconduct constitute high crimes and misdemeanors? And if so, should President Trump be impeached and removed from office?
President Trump has wanted to focus on the first question and stop further consideration there. Democratic members of Congress have focused attention on the second question and invited academic testimony there. But the third question is the most important one.
As Mara Liasson pointed out earlier today on NPR, there’s a big gap between the number of Americans who think Trump acted wrongly and the number who think he should be impeached. In offering possible explanations for the gap, Liasson observed that impeachment is the “political death penalty.” And juries don’t impose the death penalty for all capital offenses. It is therefore critical that members of Congress determine when an impeachable offense deserves impeachment and when it does not.
Some scholars and pundits have said that grounds for impeachment exist when presidents use their official powers for personal gain. But as I’ve discussed previously, that standard would apply to most presidents. The important question for the House will be to define which uses of power for personal gain should lead to impeachment and which should not. The House needs to identify a standard that will work not just for President Trump but for all future Presidents.