Two hundred and thirty years ago today, delegates to the convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution signed the document into being. In so doing, they afforded the legislative branch the power to try and remove presidents, vice presidents or attorneys general. This was an essential act in the distinguishing of the American experiment. As George Mason said in that summer of 1787, “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above justice?”
Impeachment is not a legal mechanism. It is a political act. The founders employed the catch-all phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” to provide leeway for holding errant officials to account. An impeached and convicted official is not jailed or fined. He is simply removed from office. This is the appropriate remedy, as the point of impeachment is not punishment or vengeance. The point is the protection of the republic from lawless and dangerous individuals who have claimed positions of power.
When Congresswoman Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, called for Trump’s impeachment last month, she did so with language that echoed the original intentions of the American experiment. “For the sake of the soul of our country, we must come together to restore our national dignity that has been robbed by Donald Trump’s presence in the White House,” Moore explained. “My Republican friends, I implore you to work with us within our capacity as elected officials to remove this man as our commander in chief and help us move forward from this dark period in our nation’s history."
Trump has brought a chorus of impeachment calls upon himself. But he is not the only one whose words and deeds demand a constitutional remedy. By any reasonable measure, the list must begin with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the most lawless and dangerous member of this administration.
As U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, says of the testimony Sessions gave to his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing with regard to contacts with Russian officials: "I think that he did not answer truthfully under oath.” When the lies that Sessions told were exposed, he recognized the seriousness of the circumstance and recused himself from further involvement with the inquiry into alleged ties between Trump’s business and Trump’s campaign to Russian interests.
Then the attorney general recused himself from his recusal and helped Trump to gin up arguments for firing the FBI director who was overseeing the bureau’s investigation into what the president referred to as “this Russia thing.”
Those are just the rough outlines for articles of impeachment against Sessions, a crudely intolerant political careerist whose enthusiastic talk about scrapping DACA provided a reminder of how he uses his ill-gotten position to divide Americans against one another. Jeff Sessions has no place heading a department named “Justice.”
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and @NicholsUprising
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