OpinionThe Articles of Impeachment Against Donald J. Trump: A Draft
Calls for President Trump's impeachment are getting louder. Since the release of Robert Mueller's report, White House stonewalling of congressional subpoenas and Mr. Mueller's first public comments, almost 60 House Democrats, a quarter of the caucus, have said they support an impeachment inquiry.
If Democrats do move to impeach Mr. Trump, the articles of impeachment drafted against past presidents will probably guide them. The Constitution leaves "high crimes and misdemeanors," the term that describes impeachable offenses, vague, notes the historian Timothy Naftali, a co-writer of a recent book on impeachment. "So if you are doing your constitutional duty as an elected member of Congress, how do you define high crimes and misdemeanors?" he asked. "One of the ways you do it is by looking at past practice."
What might impeachment articles against Mr. Trump look like? To find out, we reviewed the articles of impeachment drawn up against Richard Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Then we edited them — by removing and adding passages — to match the president's conduct as described in the Mueller report and elsewhere.
Impeachment is often said to be a political process. But when you assess Mr. Trump's conduct by the bar for impeachment set by past Democratic and Republican lawmakers for past presidents of both parties, the results are striking. The pathway to a possible Trump impeachment is already mapped out in these historical documents.
Based on Nixon's Impeachment
In July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon, who resigned before the full House could vote on them. Mr. Trump's behavior maps neatly onto the first and third Nixon articles, which dealt with obstruction of justice. Nixon interfered with a federal investigation of the Watergate break-in by refusing to turn over documents, pressuring witnesses, lying to the public and firing the special prosecutor assigned to the case. In response to Mr. Mueller's and Congress's inquiries, Mr. Trump has similarly stonewalled subpoenas, tried to influence witness testimony, lied and attempted to fire Mr. Mueller.
The introduction in the first impeachment article against Nixon sets up the main argument Congress would likely use against Mr. Trump: The president attempted to impede a federal investigation into his actions and those of his associates.
Like Mr. Trump, Nixon never submitted to questioning from F.B.I. investigators. But Nixon misrepresented or lied about his involvement in the Watergate cover-up to Justice Department officials and his own aides.
Mr. Mueller's investigators deemed Mr. Trump's written answers about Russia-related topics "inadequate," but they did not accuse him of providing false information. Like Nixon, however, Mr. Trump did provide false information to potential witnesses, including his own aides. He has also refused to allow congressional committees access to relevant information, including the unredacted Mueller report and witnesses.
Most of the above charges against Nixon required only modest tweaks to match Mr. Trump's conduct. Mr. Trump asked the Department of Justice, not the Central Intelligence Agency, to go after his political rivals. Mr. Trump's misconduct focused on covering up actions by members of his presidential campaign rather than the Committee for the Re-election of the President, a fundraising committee separate from the rest of the Nixon campaign apparatus.
An impeachment article against Mr. Trump could argue the presidentencouraged witnesses to give false or misleading statements to investigators and to the public, or focus on how Mr. Trump interfered with the investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia.
Nixon's abuses of presidential power, the subject of his second article, were manifold. They involved pressuring federal agencies to punish or surveil his perceived political enemies. While much of this second article doesn't match what we know of Mr. Trump's conduct, Mr. Trump has undermined the purpose of the federal government by attacking the rule of law and calling for investigations of figures like Hillary Clinton and James Comey.
"The spirit he's cultivating is that the federal bureaucracy only exists to serve the needs of Donald J. Trump," said Mr. Naftali, the historian.
Based on Clinton's Impeachment
The first article of impeachment passed by the Republican-controlled House against Bill Clinton was based on testimony he gave before a federal grand jury. Because Mr. Trump refused an in-person interview with Mr. Mueller's investigators, did not agree to provide written answers to questions about obstruction and never testified before the grand jury, little of this first article is relevant to Mr. Trump's conduct.
But any case for impeaching Mr. Trump would likely rest on obstruction of justice, the focus of Mr. Clinton's third article. (Republicans also drafted a second and fourth impeachment article against Mr. Clinton, but neither passed the full House.)
We've re-ordered the obstruction charges arrayed against Mr. Clinton to better match the timeline of Mr. Trump's potentially obstructive acts. The quotations describing each of Mr. Trump's acts come from the redacted Mueller report.
The obstruction case laid out against President Clinton was largely based on his behavior toward witnesses in the investigation into his conduct. As you can see from our rendering of a Trump indictment, Mr. Trump arguably took more extensive steps than Mr. Clinton did to thwart investigators. Beyond interfering with witnesses and encouraging the giving of false testimony, Mr. Trump tried to limit the scope of Mr. Mueller's investigation and have the special counsel removed.
Below you can see what articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump alone might look like. These rewritten articles against Mr. Trump don't include other potentially impeachable offenses that lack a clear precedent in the Nixon and Clinton cases, such as hush-money payments to women or possible violations of the Constitution's emoluments clause.
An impeachment inquiry against Mr. Trump is far from guaranteed. And whether impeaching him would politically help or hurt Democrats remains an open question. But there is no question that by the standards for high crimes and misdemeanors applied to past presidents in living memory, Donald J. Trump has committed impeachable offenses.