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Amid Calls For Trump's Impeachment, Debunking Myths

President Donald Trump speaks to the 2017 Value Voters Summit, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017.
Associated Press
President Donald Trump speaks to the 2017 Value Voters Summit, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017.
Amid Calls For Trump's Impeachment, Debunking Myths
Amid Calls For Impeachment, Debunking Myths GUEST: Cass Sunstein, author, "Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide"

Its word that's been whispered, rumored and even shouted in protest ever since the 2016 election. The word is impeachment and from members of Congress speculation is rampant about how and why a president might be impeached. Now Harvard law professor and law expert Cass Sunstein is out with a book that explains it all. Why the founders included the impeachment process in the Constitution and what constitutes an impeachment offense and outlines the high bar that need to be reach in order to remove a president from office. Joining me is Cass Sunstein, author, "Impeachment: A Citizen's Guide" . Professor welcome to the program.Great to be here, thank you so much.You start by making the point that there are pretty powerful people in Washington who don't seem to understand impeachment. House minority leader said this year that President Donald Trump could not be impeached unless he committed a crime.Whether the president is a Democrat or Republican the Constitution is very clear. You do not need to have committed a crime. The task of high crimes and misdemeanors is in its context. Test about protest or gross abuse of trust. He would be impeachable or of the president announced he was going to pardon anyone who would committed certain kinds of crimes that would be impeachable also.Most people would think that if you do commit something that is a serious crime in the regular world like tax fraud while you're in office, that would be impeachable. Why isn't it?The historical sources suggest that what impeachment is about his terrible misuse or abuse of the power you have by being president. So if he says I'm going to use the FBI to go against my political enemies, there we are in the heart of impeachment territory. If I contrast you have a president who Jay walks her shop lives or who starts punching people. Those are serious offensive. They're all offensive. They are not misuse or abuse of presidential authority.This doesn't sound like it would be hard but you think it's not as simple as it sounds. It's been said by some that our current president might be able to shoot someone off Fifth Avenue and not to support. Could he or any president be impeached for murder?Yes, because the Constitution should be understood if there is ambiguity to be sensible and murder is about the criminal offense. The reason that's less obvious than it ought to be is that all of the examples given in the period of impeachable offenses were about misuses of presidential authority and if he murder someone as any murder could, we are talking about a murder not a misuse of the apparatus of government. I think the press that line hard is kind of a lawyer getting much too lawyerly or think more that kind of act and that level of graciousness. Were talking about an abusive public trust that if the Constitution is to make sense counts as impeachable, it would be most surprising did not agree with the conclusion.Just a quick question about the 25th amendment which you are an expert on. To your mind, would this be an easier route to go to remove a president from office if he is exhibiting a dangerous mental impairment question markYes. The challenge for the 25th amendment is that unless Congress specifies otherwise, the people and forced the amendment and typically they will have a high degree of loyalty to him but in the case we are describing that his inability to do the job because of mental impairment, that is not poor judgment or recklessness but in actual impairment. That is what the 25th amendment is for. So the 25th amendment is for conditions in the impeachment causes for actions.Two presidents have been impeached. Neither was removed from office. Richard Nixon came close. In all three the votes in Congress were largely partisan. So despite the safeguards do you think impeachment really could work as designed?I do. The way to think of it is that impeachment has been rarely appropriate in American history. We've been blessed in that sense. The other structures of control unpresidential misconduct is most important, I think. Does have been good safeguards. So for people who think George Bush was not a good president it would be very hard to say did anything -- didn't do anything impeachable and they did no effort. They didn't make any serious impeachment effort and good for them. The Nixon case was kind of an assistive case in which impeachment was warranted given his misuse of the apparatus of government to entrench himself in the system did work there. The Clinton and Johnson ones were very mild for impeachment. They saw things clearly. I'm hopeful that in any case in which the constitutional standard is clearly met, the country that has such a extraordinary history of self protection whether it involves World War II or the Civil War or the 60s, the country would rise up.I've been speaking with Cass Sunstein. Thank you so much.Thank you.

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.