The political elites who continue to prattle on about how President Trump’s firing of special counsel Robert Mueller would “spark a constitutional crisis” are wrong.
Were Trump to fire Mueller—or in some way engineer the removal of the man who is leading the inquiry into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election—that would not spark a constitutional crisis. That would be a constitutional crisis.
The response to such a crisis has been well understood, and well defined, from the founding of the American experiment. The Constitution tells us that “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 deliberately vague term “other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” was designed to address constitutional crises of the sort that arise when a president removes the veteran law enforcement man who is investigating allegations of wrongdoing by that president and his inner circles. It answers the questions posed by George Mason as the Constitutional Convention was deliberating on the question of presidential accountability. “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued,” Mason explained. “Shall any man be above Justice? Above all shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?”
The impeachment power was established to prevent lawless presidents from abusing the powers of their position in order to place themselves above justice. Donald Trump has been abusing the powers of his position since the day he took office. But any attempt to remove Mueller—as the president’s recent tweets suggest is a real prospect—would represent a next stage of abuse that could not be neglected or denied.
Responsible members of the House of Representatives have already filed resolutions containing articles of impeachment, and they should be taken seriously. Congressmen Al Green (D-TX) and Brad Sherman (D-CA) have proposed credible impeachment resolutions. So, too, has Congressman Steve Cohen, the ranking Democrat on the constitution subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, who says:
The time has come to make clear to the American people and to this President that his train of injuries to our Constitution must be brought to an end through impeachment. I believe there is evidence that he attempted to obstruct an investigation into Russia’s interference with the US presidential election and links between between Russia and the Trump campaign, most notably the firing of FBI Director James Comey. The president’s blatant refusal to separate himself from his businesses has led to clear instances of conflict of interest that appear to violate both the domestic and foreign emoluments clauses. And his attacks on “so-called” judges and “fake news” have undermined public confidence in the judiciary and the press. It’s time for Congress to take action to stop this reckless and harmful behavior by removing Mr. Trump from office and to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States.
Cohen’s resolution has attracted 16 cosponsors, including Congressman John Lewis, the Georgia Democrat who is often described as the conscience of the Congress. Congressional Progressive Caucus cochair Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) is signed on, as is Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA).
It would undoubtedly be the case that the firing of Robert Mueller would require the filing of a new and specific article of impeachment. That action would not initiate a constitutional crisis. It would begin the process of responding to a crisis. Were the House to impeach Trump, and were the Senate to try and convict him for obstruction of justice and other high crimes and misdemeanors, the president would be removed from office.
With Donald Trump’s removal, the constitutional crisis would be finished in precisely the manner that the founders intended. The process is no more complicated than that. It was designed to be simple and sensible. And it remains so. The only thing that complicates it are the gutless partisans of both parties who take up space in Congress, and the quivering commentators who cannot wrap their heads around the reality that the tools for attaining presidential accountability are readily available.
The use of those tools does not bring on a constitutional crisis. The use of those tools cures the constitutional crisis that began when the president abandoned the rule of law and tried to make himself a monarch.