Three years into his presidency, Donald Trump will face trial in the U.S. Senate on two articles of impeachment approved by the House of Representatives. It is all but certain that the Republican-majority Senate will not vote to remove him from office. The rest of the country will get to decide his fate next November.
Nevertheless, it was right for Democrats in the House to proceed with impeachment, both how and when they did. The articles of impeachment are narrow in scope but nevertheless damning. The first charges Trump with abusing the power of the presidency. In secretly withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine until it announced an investigation of Joseph Biden for nonexistent acts of “corruption,” the president “[ignored and injured] national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit. He has also betrayed the nation by abusing his office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections” (the House Judiciary Committee report alleges multiple federal crimes, including criminal bribery and wire fraud, under this charge). The second article charges Trump with obstructing Congress’s investigation into these abuses. In defying subpoenas for documents and blocking staff members from testifying about the Ukraine scheme, Trump engaged in “categorical and indiscriminate defiance” that prevented the House from conducting its oversight role and violated the separation of powers. These actions meet the definition of “high crimes” as the Constitution’s framers understood the term. Envisioning (or dreading) such behavior by the executive, the framers were clear that it could not be countenanced. They “provided for impeachment of the president because they wanted the president, unlike the king, to be controlled by law,” as legal scholar Noah Feldman told the Judiciary Committee earlier this month, “and because they feared that a president might abuse the power of his office to gain personal advantage, corrupt the electoral process, and keep himself in office.”