Opinion: Impeach with integrity

Scott Barker
Concentrating extreme power in the hands of our presidents makes it all the more important for the impeachment process to be properly understood and applied with integrity, Barker writes.

Our politicians should keep the following words of wisdom in mind as they work through President Donald Trump’s impeachment process. Virginia delegate George Mason at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 had this to say about the importance of impeachment as a check on the president: “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above Justice? Above all shall that man be above it who can commit the most extensive injustice?” Add to that 19th century British politician Lord John Acton’s aphorism that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” 

In many respects, the power exercised by 21st century presidents is practically absolute. Lest anyone doubt that, consider the following. Early in his administration, with three pen strokes, Trump took the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords, withdrew the country from the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement, and scotched the nuclear deal with Iran. More recently, apparently with a phone call to the Pentagon ordering withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, Trump reversed U.S. strategy in the Middle East and abandoned the Kurds, one of our key allies in the region. These were all significant decisions with profound consequences for all Americans and millions of people abroad. They were the acts of a single person. No votes were sought or taken in Congress.

It is not my purpose to debate the extent to which concentrating such absolute power in the hands of the president is consistent with the framers’ intent, although it’s a debate worth having. My point is this: Concentrating extreme power in the hands of our presidents makes it all the more important for the impeachment/removal process to be properly understood and applied with integrity. 

What gets lost in the cacophony of political rhetoric is the fundamental fact that, when properly wielded, impeachment is not just another arena for partisan politics.  The framers did recognize that, by committing impeachment to the political branch, politics could not be completely expunged from the process. Indeed, the Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton impeachments and trials were freighted with partisan politics.  But they expected more and got it in the Watergate saga. President Richard Nixon’s resignation ultimately resulted from strong bipartisan agreement in both the House and the Senate that he had seriously abused the public trust, thereby committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Recognizing the certainty of his impeachment and removal, Nixon resigned.

In short, impeachment calls for statesmanship, not partisan politics. We should be demanding that members of Congress set aside their political interests, honor their oath to uphold the Constitution, and act to preserve the integrity of the federal government. Sober and dispassionate analysis of the facts in light of the impeachment standard is demanded by the Constitution.

Scott Barker is a civil trial lawyer practicing in Denver for nearly 40 years. He is the author of two books on impeachment: “Impeachment, a Political Sword,” and “The Impeachment Quagmire.”