- - Sunday, August 26, 2018


Last week, a full-page opinion column in the Loudoun Times-Mirror, a weekly newspaper in Northern Virginia, actually had this five-column headline, caps included:

“THE BORDER CRISIS: It’s worse than 9/11, worse than the war in Iraq.”

This is why it’s hard to write political satire. Far from an outlier, the headline epitomizes how the media has fixated on family separations at the border as if people breaking the law never had to spend time away from their children.

The Times-Mirror leans left, but the editors usually weed out something as preposterous as the columnist’s claim that became the headline.

In any case, the media’s and the Democrats’ hysteria over family separations at the border has been eclipsed by the graft conviction of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the “flipping” of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen. It’s a giddy time for anyone running the “impeach Trump pool” in newsrooms and campaign offices across the land.

Manafort’s convictions stem from conduct years before he served briefly as Mr. Trump’s campaign manager. Cohen’s allegations about hush money are undoubtedly sordid, but do they constitute an impeachable offense if true? And none of this has anything to do with alleged Trump campaign collusion with the Russians, the supposed focus of the Mueller investigation.

Cohen says he secretly taped conversations with Mr. Trump about payoffs to the porn performer Stormy Daniels and former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal to buy their silence before the 2016 election about alleged affairs 10 years earlier. Apart from anything else, this will not help honest lawyers win over skeptical clients by saying, “trust me.”

Attorney-client privilege prevents disclosure of communications — unless the client made it with the intention of committing or covering up a crime or fraud.

But, “it’s not even a close question,” Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a liberal Democrat who backed Hillary Clinton, said on Fox News. “I challenge any of those who say it’s a crime to find me anything in the criminal law that would make it a crime for a president personally or candidate personally to pay in order to save his own election. It’s just not against the law .

“It might be a misdemeanor for the campaign to fail to report that payment but it would be on the campaign not on the candidate To talk about this as a ‘high crime and misdemeanor,’ it’s absurd.”

That has not stopped some Democrats and the media from shouting “impeachment!” and “high crimes and misdemeanors!” from the rooftops. Democratic megadonor Tom Steyer has been at it since October, when he launched a $10 million “impeach Trump” media campaign.

So, let’s see what the U.S. Constitution says. Article II states, “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Article III explains: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Bribery usually involves corrupting a government official for personal or political gain. This leaves “high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” which is where it gets fuzzy.

In Federalist 65, Alexander Hamilton wrote that impeachment could be undertaken for “offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” That’s pretty broad.

James Madison said during the Constitutional Convention that impeachment could be based on “incapacity, negligence, or perfidy.”

Speaking of perfidy (being faithless or disloyal), in 1998 Bill Clinton was impeached by the House on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to a federal grand jury about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The Senate voted in February 1999 to acquit him.

Richard Nixon was never impeached, contrary to popular perception, but resigned his presidency in 1974 after the famous Watergate tapes exposing the coverup went public.

If Mr. Trump did order payment of hush money and then lied about it, it’s disgusting. But would it rise to an impeachable offense? The answer may well be decided by which party controls the House next January. As Rep. Al Green, Texas Democrat tweeted, “the November election will be about impeachment.”

In 1970, Rep. Gerald Ford, Michigan Republican, tried unsuccessfully to have Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas impeached, and famously declared that “an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

With Nov. 6 approaching, the stakes for this recovering republic of ours suddenly went sky high. It’s enough to make the media look away from the border for a while.

• Robert Knight is a contributor to The Washington Times. His latest book is “A Strong Constitution: What Would America Look Like If We Followed the Law” (djkm.org, 2018).

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