Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) has probably set a new record in the unending impeach-a-president-I-don't-like competition. The previous record we've given to radio host Michael Savage, who called for Obama's impeachment in March of 2009 -- two months into the Obama administration.
Brooks's proposal? That, if elected, Hillary Rodham Clinton could be impeached on her first day in office. Brooks told radio host Matt Murphy that "she will be a unique president if she is elected by the public next November, because the day she's sworn in is the day that she's subject to impeachment because she has committed high crimes and misdemeanors," as reported by the Huffington Post.
So: Pre-impeachment. Primpeachment.
There are some problems with Brooks's argument, though. The Constitution grants the House the power of impeachment for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Brooks seized on the latter, rather vague set of conditions. To MSNBC's Steve Kornacki, Brooks said that those crimes were "the mishandling of classified information, top secret information" -- by setting up her own e-mail server.
Kornacki asked if Brooks meant that Clinton has already committed impeachable offenses. "In my opinion, yes, sir," Brooks replied.
Whether or not Clinton transmitting classified files in an insecure manner meets the "high crime" or "misdemeanor" standard would mostly be up to the House to determine. But there's another problem for Brooks: The House has, in the past, stated that crimes prior to a person's holding office do not subject them to impeachment in that office.
In 1873, the House considered the impeachment of the sitting vice president, Schuyler Colfax*. As a member of the House several years prior, Colfax was one of several representatives who received discount railroad stock from Rep. Oakes Ames in exchange for votes. (Ames himself was censured by the House.) In response to the scandal, the House asked the Judiciary Committee to figure out who else might be punished for their role in the agreement.
The committee came to the ultimate conclusion that Colfax couldn't be impeached as vice president -- because the alleged crime occurred before he held that position.
The body first asked if the intent of impeachment was remedial or punitive -- that is, if it were meant to correct bad action or to punish it. The members decided that the Founding Fathers intended impeachment to be remedial.
In that case, they figured, the actions being remedied needed to have occurred while the person held the office. From the Congressional Globe, February 1873:
It reads, in part: "the remedial proceeding of impeachment should only be applied to high crimes and misdemeanors committed while in office, and which alone effect the officer in discharge of his duties as such ... for impeachment touches the office only, and qualifications for the office, and not the man himself."
"For the reasons so hastily stated, and many more which might be adduced," the reply ends, "your committee conclude that both the impeaching power bestowed upon the two Houses by the Constitution and the power of expulsion are remedial only ... and are not to be used in any constitutional sense or right for the purpose of punishing any man for a crime committed before he becomes a member of the House or in case of a civil officer [Ed. – Like vice president.] as just cause of impeachment."
When then-Vice President Spiro T. Agnew requested an impeachment hearing in 1973, following allegations that he'd received bribes, the New York Times opined that he couldn't be impeached because the crimes happened before he was vice president, citing the Colfax case. (Agnew apparently hoped to use impeachment to forestall criminal sanction. His request was denied.)
It's at this point that we'll note that Brooks's claim is enormously unlikely, even in a deeply partisan moment. After all, launching impeachment proceedings based on old information against someone who has just been elected by a majority of Americans and/or the Electoral College is the sort of thing that reflects badly on a politician.
That is to say, primpeachment won't happen. If Clinton is elected, Republicans will have to find some other crime, or just wait until she's ousted four years later.
Which is what happened to Schuyler Colfax.
* This, rather amazingly, is the second time that Colfax has been mentioned by The Post in two months. He was also speaker of the House prior to being elected vice president, and was replaced in that position by Theodore Pomeroy -- who served as speaker for 25 hours until Congress adjourned.