A Republican Congressman’s Case for Impeaching Trump

Representative Justin Amash is the first member of the House GOP to call for the constitutional remedy for high crimes and misdemeanors.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

On Saturday, Representative Justin Amash became the first Republican member of Congress to suggest that President Donald Trump should be impeached for his misdeeds, a stand that puts him at odds with the GOP and risks his future in the party.

For nine years, the libertarian-leaning Michigander has been an unusually principled and independent-minded pol, breaking partisan ranks whenever he felt the Constitution demanded it. He used Twitter to lay out his conclusions about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Attorney General William Barr’s characterizations of that report, the portions that have not been released to the public, and his belief that many of his fellow lawmakers are not fully informed about the matter.

His principal conclusions:

1. Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report.

2. President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.

3. Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances.

4. Few members of Congress have read the report.

About those claims, he stressed, “I offer these conclusions only after having read Mueller’s redacted report carefully and completely, having read or watched pertinent statements and testimony, and having discussed this matter with my staff, who thoroughly reviewed materials and provided me with further analysis.”

He came away regarding Barr as a liar:

In comparing Barr’s principal conclusions, congressional testimony, and other statements to Mueller’s report, it is clear that Barr intended to mislead the public about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s analysis and findings. Barr’s misrepresentations are significant but often subtle, frequently taking the form of sleight-of-hand qualifications or logical fallacies, which he hopes people will not notice.

Then he turned to the question of impeachment, fretting that failing to use it in the face of presidential misconduct would lead to more high crimes and misdemeanors:

Under our Constitution, the president “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

While “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” is not defined, the context implies conduct that violates the public trust. Contrary to Barr’s portrayal, Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment. In fact, Mueller’s report identifies multiple examples of conduct satisfying all the elements of obstruction of justice, and undoubtedly any person who is not the president of the United States would be indicted based on such evidence.

Impeachment, which is a special form of indictment, does not even require probable cause that a crime (e.g., obstruction of justice) has been committed; it simply requires a finding that an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct. While impeachment should be undertaken only in extraordinary circumstances, the risk we face in an environment of extreme partisanship is not that Congress will employ it as a remedy too often but rather that Congress will employ it so rarely that it cannot deter misconduct.

Finally, he turned to his colleagues in Congress, observing, “Our system of checks and balances relies on each branch’s jealously guarding its powers and upholding its duties under our Constitution.” In contrast, he wrote, “when loyalty to a political party or to an individual trumps loyalty to the Constitution, the Rule of Law—the foundation of liberty—crumbles. We’ve witnessed members of Congress from both parties shift their views 180 degrees—on the importance of character, on the principles of obstruction of justice—depending on whether they’re discussing Bill Clinton or Donald Trump.”

He upbraided his colleagues for being underinformed, charging that few “even read Mueller’s report; their minds were made up based on partisan affiliation—and it showed, with representatives and senators from both parties issuing definitive statements on the 448-page report’s conclusions within just hours of its release.” And he concluded, “America’s institutions depend on officials to uphold both the rules and spirit of our constitutional system even when to do so is personally inconvenient or yields a politically unfavorable outcome.”

On Sunday, Trump responded on Twitter, “Never a fan of @justinamash, a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, ‘composed’ by 18 Angry Dems who hated Trump, he would see that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION … Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!”

Trump’s statement is a lie: The Mueller report was not “strong” on “no obstruction”; it presented some evidence suggesting that Trump had obstructed justice, but declined to reach a conclusive prosecutorial judgment on that question. Trump is nevertheless correct that the Muller report found “no collusion.”

In my estimation, impeaching Trump for obstruction of justice without definitive evidence of an underlying crime is highly unlikely to result in his conviction and removal from office, especially given Republican control of the Senate. And the country is now close enough to the 2020 election that deciding the matter at the ballot box may well be the most prudent of all courses.

However, I believe that Trump has committed other impeachable offenses, including his unlawful bombing of Syria, his decision to keep American troops participating in Yemen despite a congressional vote against that course, the false accusations of treason that he has made on Twitter, and his calls to abridge the freedoms of speech and the press that he vowed to protect and defend.

Most members of Congress have paid little attention to those transgressions, as their expectations of proper presidential behavior are divorced from the Constitution. Amash is different. Since he believes that impeachment is a prudent course politically, plausibly asserting that it could rein in future misbehavior, he should draw up a comprehensive list of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors rather than focusing narrowly on the Mueller report. Doing so would usefully clarify the strongest case for impeaching Trump.

What articles would you suggest, Representative Amash?