Religious right pseudo-historian David Barton and his son Tim released a video yesterday arguing that there are no constitutional grounds for impeaching President Donald Trump.
According to the Bartons, the impeachment process in the Constitution was designed so that “if you had a president who was going crazy, doing things that were wrong, you could put a stop to that,” but the president had to have committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which is not the case with Trump.
“There have been a lot of accusations,” Tim Barton said, “but until something is proven, you don’t really have a good reason, criminally speaking, to impeach him.”
This position seems to conflict with the view that David Barton laid out back in 2017, when he asserted on his “WallBuilders Live” radio program that “an impeachable offense is whatever 51 percent of the House says someone should be impeached for.”
The transcript reads (with emphasis added):
The Constitution talks very extensively about impeachment. We have six clauses in the Constitution there is no other subject in the Constitution that has six clauses covering that topic.
Impeachment is something that is very much a focus of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution. Because of that, you have dozens, last time I counted, well over 100 different impeachment proceedings across our history.
So you not only have the word in the Constitution you have the precedent of history to show what is an impeachable offense. Constitutionally speaking, it’s for high crimes and misdemeanors and that’s not what we think it is today.
When President Clinton was impeached back in the 90’s law professors essentially redefined that crime to say, “Well, a high crime and misdemeanor is something that is a criminal felony. It’s not a civil felony like lying to a grand jury like Bill Clinton did. You have to rape your daughter or murder your wife or something of the sort. It has to be a criminal felony.” And that’s just not the case.
At the time of the Founding Fathers, a misdemeanor was not a level of crime as it is today. We have felonies, we have misdemeanors, and you have a level a, b, c, and d misdemeanors, etc. At that time a misdemeanor was defined as bad behavior.
It was for high crimes and bad behavior. Now, within that framework, high crimes didn’t mean that it had to be an elite thing like murder. It meant any kind of crime committed at a high level, by a high-level official. So that could be a federal judge, it could be a precedent, it could be a cabinet member, it could be anybody except a senator or rep.
Back in 1797, you had an impeachment attempt against a U.S. senator who, William Blount who had actually been one of the signers of the Constitution. But he apparently was working with Aaron Burr to set up a foreign nation down in Mexico area and they said, “No, we’re not doing that, we’re impeaching you.”
At that time they went into it and said, “No, you really can’t impeach a sitting senator or rep. It’s gotta be somebody like a president, or a judge, or some other appointed official.” Because he was available to be out at the next election and the state legislature at that time chose senators so the state legislature could get rid of them.
So what they did at the time of the impeachment was say “Ok, if it’s bad behavior by a top official or someone in high government, someplace high, then that’s what you can impeach.”
What are you impeached for? I think it was well summarized by a former President who at the time was the leader of the House. He said, “Impeachment is whatever a majority of the House says that it is.” And if you look at the constitutional process an impeachable offense is whatever 51 percent of the House says someone should be impeached for.
Now, it takes much higher than that, it takes two-thirds of the Senate to convict, the Senate such as a jury.
But you look at impeachable offenses, you had, for example, early federal judge Founding Fathers impeach them, get them off the court because he got drunk in private life. “Well, that’s not a crime.” Yeah, but it was bad behavior, it was misbehavior, it was high crime and misdemeanor. It was bad behavior by a high official. Therefore, you need to go.
You have the same thing, another judge was impeached for cursing in the courtroom. It’s not a crime but it’s bad behavior by a high official. So it can be anything like that. As you get into the presidential impeachment era you have Andrew Johnson.
He was, of course, Abraham Lincoln’s vice president who became president when Lincoln was assassinated. And the hard reconstructionist guys that really wanted the South reconstructed, Andrew Johnson was not one of those. he was himself essentially a Democrat from seceded state. So he didn’t want to push for hard reconstruction. So he dismissed one of the cabinet members.
Well, he actually came within a vote of losing the presidency for dismissing a cabinet member. The House impeached him for that and the Senate almost convicted him for that. That’s certainly not what we would call a high crime and misdemeanor. But in their estimation, that was bad behavior by top public official.
So, anything that Donald Trump does that 51 percent of the House thinks is bad for him to have done, yeah, they can do an impeachment for him.