Donald Trump’s campaign boast that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters” may still hold true for the dead-enders who cling to the fantasy that he’s a competent commander in chief. But the Trump team doesn’t set the standard for presidential accountability. That was done back in 1787, when the initiators of the American experiment delineated the impeachment power that is suddenly all the rage.
Impeachment is not the only tool for checking and balancing errant presidents. Congress has the power of the purse, the duty to declare wars, and “advise and consent” oversight authority. Unfortunately, the separation-of-powers protections outlined in the Constitution have taken a beating on the long march from George Washington’s “prudent” administration to the imperial presidency that Trump inherited.
Thankfully, the American people have always been more constitutionally inclined than the political elites. Tens of millions of good citizens are now prepared to explore every option for checking the authoritarian instincts of a man who would be what patriots have always feared: “a king for four years.” In a Public Policy Polling survey from mid-May, 48 percent of the people surveyed said they supported impeachment, compared with just 41 percent who were opposed.
The list of grievances fueling the “Impeach Trump Now” campaign may have started with complaints that this billionaire president is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause—a concern highlighted by Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan when he warned in a February 2 floor speech that, should President Trump fail to address his potential conflicts of interest and continue to disregard demands for transparency, “We’ll have to take other actions, including legislative directives, resolutions of disapproval, and even explore the power of impeachment.” But that list of grievances has grown exponentially larger as this presidency has lurched from crisis to crisis.
After the president fired FBI director James Comey—in what Trump essentially admitted in a nationally televised interview was a blatant attempt to thwart the bureau’s investigation into the charges of Russian involvement with his campaign—Pocan said the “impeachment clock” had moved “an hour closer to midnight.” When it was revealed that Trump had confided to Russian officials after the Comey firing that “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off,” the impeachment clock’s alarm sounded. According to Comey, Trump had requested that the FBI drop its investigation into former national-security adviser Michael Flynn and his ties to Russia. Those details now read like the elements of an article of impeachment for obstruction of justice. As Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe explained in a May 14 argument for impeachment, “This president has shown that he cannot be trusted to remain within the law, and our Constitution’s last resort for situations of that kind is to get the person out of office.”