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Amid Calls For Trump’s Impeachment, Debunking Myths

President Donald Trump speaks to the 2017 Value Voters Summit, Friday, Oct. 1...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: President Donald Trump speaks to the 2017 Value Voters Summit, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017.

Amid Calls For Impeachment, Debunking Myths


Cass Sunstein, author, "Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide"


As California billionaire Tom Steyer is pledging to spend at least $10 million in a national TV ad campaign to get President Trump impeached, Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein says the process can be arcane to most Americans.

The Constitution says presidents and other federal officials can be impeached for treason, bribery, "or other high crimes and misdemeanors." That last phrase is pretty ambiguous to modern ears, says Sunstein, who testified before Congress during the Clinton impeachment proceedings on its exact meaning. House Minority Nancy Pelosi, for example, got it wrong earlier this year when she said Trump could only be impeached if he committed a crime, according to Sunstein.

Abuses of power, even if not violations of the law, are what the founders were thinking of when they put in impeachment protections, he said.

"If the president is acting in an 'atrocious' way that harms most of the states, he is committing a 'misdemeanor' even if no violation of the law is involved," Sunstein writes in the new book, "Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide."

But not every crime deserves impeachment, according to Sunstein. Crimes that do not involve abuse of presidential power, like personal tax fraud or battery, are not what the founders intended. That makes a hypothetical president committing murder a surprisingly difficult case.

"On the one view, there is no abuse of distinctly presidential powers, and thus no impeachable offense," he wrote. "On another view, the president can be impeached for this level of private misconduct, on the theory that murder is an exceptionally serious crime and the president is not likely to be able to govern after committing such a crime."

Sunstein joins KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday with more misconceptions about impeaching presidents.

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