Impeaching Barack Obama: IntroductionJune 23, 2012
Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution states:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
The House of Representatives is charged with drafting and enacting articles of impeachment -- and the decision of whether such action be undertaken rests solely with this chamber of Congress as well. The House, then, possesses a rather extraordinary responsibility: oversight. This burden explains the numerous investigations, often targeting the Executive branch of government, originating there, for should substantial and credible evidence of wrong-doing surface and should such wrong-doing rise, in the judgment of the House of Representatives, to the level of impeachment, members are then obligated, by their oath of office, to proceed toward that end.
Debates about what precisely constitutes an "impeachable offense" have clogged the airwaves of television and radio for decades, the only consistent outcome of such discussions yielding disagreement. No particular answer exists, of course, to this question. As a practical matter, an impeachable offense is any one that the House of Representatives defines as such, at a moment in time, expressed through a majority vote on the matter. Narrow majorities in the House believed accusations of perjury and obstruction of justice leveled toward President Clinton during his second term were impeachable offenses; a chamber with a different makeup of Congressmen may have disagreed.
But what of treason, bribery, and "high Crimes and Misdemeanors?" The Constitution actually defines "treason" in Article III, Section 3, as follows:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
Black's Law Dictionary defines "bribery" as:
the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty.
Given the current state of politics in the U.S. and the globe, bribery may seem to be the basis of much of what goes on within governments today. This broad-brush interpretation necessitates that alleged bribes be well defined, specific, and linked to personal gain. There is a difference, after all, between donating money to support a political candidate with whom one agrees on a plethora of issues and cutting a personal check to that same candidate for a sum of money in exchange for his support on a particular issue. Regardless, a debate on the influence of money in politics is outside the scope of this commentary.
The nature of "high Crimes and Misdemeanors" has intrigued politicians, legal scholars, researchers, and analysts for much of this country's history, for it lacks definition in the Constitution and seems up for interpretation. A closer examination, however, necessitates a look at English Common Law, often the source of vocabulary and legal concept for the Founders and a goldmine of clarity for contemporaries who lack the connection to and influence of English Common law that the Founders took as an obvious, and often sole, point of reference. Hundreds of years of history show a very broad interpretation of the phrase in England, the basis for impeachments for activities both legal and illegal that were considered affronts to the State. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 65, describes the impeachment process rather prophetically, especially when considering the Clinton impeachment in 1998:
A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.
Specifically, impeachment then is the remedy to purge society of public officials whose actions have damaged the very structure of our government and our society. Treason and bribery do, of course, create such damage, and any number of other offenses (high crimes and misdemeanors) may as well -- in fact, any act by an official that threatens the sanctity and stability of the nation or that undermines its structural underpinnings as a three-branch system of checks and balances and a tiered system of federal, state, and local government can reasonably be considered grounds for impeachment. The sanctity of the Constitution, in large measure, lies with the President, who must "to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," per his oath of office. Where the President fails in this oath, he damages society by destabilizing the republic and, to this end, he has, with little reasonable debate, conducted himself in a manner that constitutes grounds for impeachment.
This series of commentaries will examine President Barack Obama through the lens of constitutional defiance. It will illustrate that conduct which most breeches his oath of office, which most damages the government of which he himself is a part, and which most harms the very people who live under his stewardship.
In the next few days, I'll discuss my first point of contention and ground for impeachment: Libya. I'll lay out exactly how the President violated the Constitution and in turn his oath of office by ordering an illegal military action.
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