In the 1970s, we investigated serious abuses of presidential power by President Richard M. Nixon, including obstruction of justice, concealment of government records and misuse of government agencies to punish his political enemies. We prosecuted many of Nixon’s aides for their complicity in Nixon’s offenses. Rather than indicting the president, the grand jury named him an unindicted co-conspirator, delivered to the House a “road map” of the evidence implicating him in wrongdoing and deferred to the House’s constitutional responsibility to address such presidential wrongdoing through the impeachment process.
The House, through its Judiciary Committee, fulfilled that responsibility by reviewing the evidence, interviewing witnesses and concluding that the facts warranted adopting three articles of impeachment: one for obstruction, one for abuse of power and one for contempt of Congress. Shortly thereafter, the president resigned rather than face a Senate trial.
In our considered view, the same three articles of impeachment could be specified against Trump, as he has demonstrated serious and persistent abuses of power that, in our view, satisfy the constitutional standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” For example:
● Trump conditioned protection of the military security of the United States and of an ally (Ukraine) on actions for his personal political benefit.
● Trump subordinated the integrity of our national electoral process to his own personal political interest by soliciting and encouraging foreign government interference in our electoral process, including by Russia and China. He also appears to have demanded that Ukraine investigate a potential 2020 political opponent and pursue the conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 presidential election, despite the unanimous conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that it was Russia that had interfered.
● Trump obstructed lawful congressional investigations by systematically withholding evidence and by directing government agencies and employees to refuse to cooperate with legitimate oversight by Congress. Most significantly, the president’s blanket refusal to honor requests for relevant information sought by House members conducting an impeachment inquiry constitutes impeachable contempt and obstruction. The public is entitled to know the facts, and Congress is the body our democracy has entrusted with uncovering them.
The Constitution provides for the elected representatives of the people to resort to impeachment in extraordinary circumstances showing that this drastic remedy is necessary to restrain, and possibly remove, a president who has engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. Proper regard for reestablishing and protecting the rule of law requires firm and resolute action by the House. Lawmakers should not allow any refusal by the president to cooperate in its process to frustrate the performance of its constitutional duties.
If a bill of impeachment comes before the Senate, we urge all members of the Senate to put aside partisan loyalties and carry out their own constitutional duties courageously and honestly. In 1974, it was a group of Republican senators who put national interest over party loyalty and informed Nixon that his conduct was indefensible and would compel conviction by the Senate and removal from office. We hope the current Senate would similarly put honor and integrity above partisanship and personal political interest.
The following signers are all former members of the Justice Department’s special prosecutor team that investigated the Watergate scandal:
Nick Akerman, former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York
Richard Ben-Veniste, former member of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
Richard J. Davis, former assistant secretary of the treasury for enforcement and operations
Carl B. Feldbaum, former inspector general for Defense Intelligence, former assistant to the energy secretary and former chief of staff to Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter
George T. Frampton Jr., former assistant secretary of the Interior and former chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
Kenneth S. Geller, formerly deputy U.S. solicitor general
Gerald Goldman, former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan
Stephen E. Haberfeld, former U.S. magistrate judge in the Central District of California
Larry Hammond, former first deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel
Henry Hecht, lecturer in residence at University of California at Berkeley School of Law
Paul R. Hoeber, lawyer in private practice
Philip Allen Lacovara, former deputy solicitor general of the United States; former special counsel to the House Ethics Committee; and former president of the D.C. Bar
Paul R. Michel, former chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and former associate deputy attorney general of the United States
Robert L. Palmer, lawyer in private practice
Richard Weinberg, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York
Jill Wine-Banks, former general counsel of the U.S. Army; former solicitor general and deputy attorney general of the state of Illinois; and former chief operating officer of the American Bar Association
Roger Witten, lawyer in private practice