“The earlier reports remain useful points of reference, but no longer reflect the best available learning on questions relating to presidential impeachment,” Nadler writes in the report’s foreword. “Further, they do not address several issues of constitutional law with particular relevance to the ongoing impeachment inquiry respecting President Donald J. Trump.”
In the report — drafted entirely by Democratic staff, in contrast to the Nixon-era iteration, which featured a degree of bipartisanhip — the committee has sought to refute arguments that impeachable offenses must entail a violation of criminal law. They also sharply rebutted the notion that impeaching a president who has committed impeachable conduct amounts to reversing an election.
“No President is entitled to persist in office after committing ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’” the report reads, “and no one who voted for him in the last election is entitled to expect he will do so.”
The report is a crucial document in the annals of presidential impeachment, a subject with little accumulated precedent and innumerable gray areas. Democrats are taking the opportunity to try to fill in some of the blanks left to them by the Clinton and Nixon-era staff reports. Among them: the Founders’ special concern about a president who would abuse the office’s power over foreign policy.
“A President who perverts his role as chief diplomat to serve private rather than public ends has unquestionably engaged in ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ — especially if he invited, rather than opposed, foreign interference in our politics,” the report says.
The language is an all-but-explicit reference to allegations that Trump abused his power when he asked Ukraine’s president, on a July 25 phone call, to investigate his political adversaries, including former Vice President Joe Biden. Democrats argue that the call itself is grounds for impeachment, but they’ve also alleged that he withheld a White House meeting and military aid from Ukraine in an attempt to secure these politically motivated investigations.
The Judiciary Committee report also seeks to refute claims by Trump and his allies that Democrats have abused the impeachment process, setting out important new procedural markers for how the House should approach future impeachments.
In particular, the panel takes exception to claims that the president should have been afforded a greater degree of due process and cross-examination in the House’s impeachment process.
Per the report, the House’s role is analogous to a “grand jury or prosecutor,” deciding whether evidence supports charging the president. “The President is entitled to present a full defense,” the panel notes, “at trial in the Senate.”
“It is thus in the Senate, and not in the House, where the President might properly raise certain protections associated with trials,” the committee concludes.
The panel also fleshed out reasons why actions that fall within a president’s legitimate authority can still, when abused, constitute impeachable conduct. And attempts at improper conduct, even if unsuccessful, can still be impeachment-worthy, the committee argues.
“There is no power in the Constitution that a President can exercise immune from legal consequence. The existence of any such unchecked and uncheckable authority in the federal government would offend the bedrock principle that nobody is above the law,” the panel wrote. “[T]he exact forms of Presidential wrongdoing that they discussed in Philadelphia could be committed through use of executive powers, and it is unthinkable that the Framers left the Nation defenseless in such cases.”