In Day 2 of Democratic House managers making the case in favor of removing President Donald Trump from office through the Senate impeachment trial process, Rep. Jerry Nadler indicated that legal scholars — and indeed, some of Trump’s defenders within the Senate body itself — didn’t believe that “high crimes and misdemeanors” was a legal standard that required an actual, literal crime.
“In a last-ditch legal defense of their client, the president’s lawyers argue that impeachment and removal are subject to statutory crimes, or to offenses against established law,” Nadler said in his statement on Thursday, per reporting from NBC News.
Nadler cited the testimony of many impeachment inquiry witnesses, including legal scholars who were invited to speak about the subject. But he also cited current Sen. Lindsey Graham, who, in the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton as a House manager himself at the time, made the same legal argument.
Graham last year told Axios in an interview that he was open to impeaching Trump, so long as an actual crime could be demonstrated, reporting from CNN detailed.
“Sure, I mean show me something that is a crime,” Graham said in that interview. “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.”
But more than 20 years ago, Graham had a different view, when it was a Democratic president who was being impeached rather than a Republican one.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 23, 2020
“What’s a high crime? How about if an important person hurts somebody of low means?” Graham said during the impeachment of Clinton. He went on:
“It’s not very scholarly, but I think it’s the truth. I think that’s what they meant by high crimes, doesn’t have to be a crime. It’s just when you start using your office and you’re acting in a way that hurts people, you committed a high crime.”
Historically speaking, the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” isn’t meant to be taken literally. At the time when the founders included it in the Constitution in the late 18th century, the term was understood to mean an abuse of power, rather than a literal reading of the words.
In short, “high crimes and misdemeanors” is any instance in which an official is deemed unworthy of their office because of an action they have taken that is detrimental to others or to the people they serve.