One of the key claims made by Republicans’ constitutional expert in Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing, George Washington Univerity Professor Jonathan Turley, was that an offense must be a crime to constitutionally merit impeachment.
But putting aside the extremely dubious claim that it was not a crime for President Donald Trump’s suspension of military aid to force Ukraine to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, Turley is contradicting himself. In 2014, when Republicans were talking about impeaching President Barack Obama, Turley wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing that in fact it is a “myth” that an impeachable offense must be an indictable crime.
“While there’s a high bar for what constitutes grounds for impeachment, an offense does not have to be indictable,” wrote Turley. “Serious misconduct or a violation of public trust is enough. Madison saw impeachment as ‘defending the community against the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief magistrate.’ And the founders emphasized that impeachments were about what happened in the political arena: involving ‘political crimes and misdemeanors’ and resulting in ‘political punishments.'” He asserted that there were limits on what Congress could impeach a president for — it couldn’t just be on a whim — but that it could also involve abuses of power or derelictions of duty that weren’t federal crimes per se.
Turley also argued that “regrettably,” there is no clear precedent for what constitutes an impeachable offense altogether.
Now that Trump is president — and now that Republicans have called on him to defend the president’s behavior in Ukraine — his more nuanced 2014 stance appears to have changed.