Lawless War Is a ‘High Crime’

House GOP conducts an “impeachment inquiry” — for the wrong reasons.
The last 15 presidents have all committed impeachable offenses

A WALL Commentary

Bloodhounds in the House of Representatives are barking up the wrong tree. They seek to impeach President Biden for corruption, though lacking evidence. They would have evidence of impeachable offenses if they considered acts like these:

N­one of those warlike acts were authorized by Congress, the only branch of the U.S. government allowed by the Constitution (Article I, Section 8) “to declare war,” i.e. to initiate it.

Article II, Section 4, provides removal from office of the president, vice-president, or other civil officer of the U.S. upon impeachment for and conviction of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Impeachment means accusation by the House of Representatives. Conviction requires a two-thirds vote of senators present in the Senate chamber.

Shouldn’t illegal acts of war or homicide count among “high crimes and misdemeanors”? No such charge has ever issued from Congress.

A motion to include President Nixon’s concealment from Congress of his unauthorized bombing of Cambodia among articles of impeachment failed to pass the House Judiciary Committee in July 1974 when it accused him of obstructing justice, misusing official powers, and ignoring subpoenas.

Plainly the prospect of impeachment does not thwart the executive inclination toward war observed by James Madison. Whether the process works at all in the way it was intended is questionable. Although the House has voted four times to impeach a president, the Senate has never convicted one. In 1974 both parties took the process more seriously. The threat of conviction prompted Nixon to resign the presidency. Nowadays partisanship rules. Regardless of evidence, politics Trumps justice.

So on September 28 the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Accountability Committee opened an “impeachment inquiry” of (Democratic) President Joe Biden, suspecting improper financial benefit but devoid of evidence. GOP lawmakers hunt for the kind of facts they disregarded in the last two impeachment cases. In September Rep. Mike Johnson supported impeachment, and rightists hope he will follow through now that he is speaker.

Trump, Clinton, and high crimes

President Donald Trump was impeached on December 18, 2019, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He allegedly tried to make Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden by withholding U.S. military aid, then defied subpoenas. A second impeachment, January 13, 2021, accused him of inciting the Capitol insurrection a week earlier.

The House alleged serious offenses. But they were no match for Trump’s belligerent acts: wholesale bombings that rocketed civilian casualties; new and expanded battles in Africa and Asia; a massive weapons test in Afghanistan; abrogation of duly ratified arms treaties; huge Saudi arms sales and rejection of Yemen peace; drone assassination of an Iranian military leader visiting Iraq; orders to bomb Iran, withdrawn just in time, and bombing of Syria (which candidate Trump opposed).

The previous presidential impeachment, December 19, 1998, accused Bill Clinton of lying under oath and obstructing justice. Charges stemmed from prurient relations with a White House intern, which at first he falsely denied.

Were those the worst crimes the House could find? I wrote to its Judiciary Committee, citing Clinton’s war-making. It persisted. During eight year in office, Clinton intervened in eight countries, without congressional authorization. His indiscriminate 1999 bombings of Yugoslavia, aided by NATO, led ex-President Jimmy Carter to protest in The New York Times that “our destruction of civilian life has now become senseless and excessively brutal.” Congress rejected Clinton’s war. He ignored Congress. Bombings lasted eleven weeks, leaving thousands dead. Other victims of his munitions were Afghanistan, Bosnia, Colombia, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan.

In 1994 Clinton sent troops to Haiti to restore an overthrown president. War was narrowly averted, thanks to mediation by Jimmy Carter, when the new leader quit. The campaign to tell Haitians what government to have was titled “Operation Uphold Democracy.”

They could have been impeached

If unlawful war-making, war crime, or assassination constitutes “high crime,” all fifteen presidents in the last ninety years could have reasonably been impeached. They include this dozen (going backward):

Barack Obama for assassinating thousands, mostly by drones; attacking Libya (after candidate Obama called presidential attacks unconstitutional, Boston Globe, 12/20/07); bombing six other countries; and helping Saudis bomb Yemen.

George W. Bush for launching aggressive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on false pretenses and approving torture of prisoners, violating several U.S. treaties.

George H. W. Bush, the father, for unauthorized aggression against Panama and for attacking Iraqi civilians and retreating soldiers.

Ronald Reagan for unauthorized war-making in Lebanon, Grenada, El Salvador, and Nicaragua; violating an explicit law against aiding Nicaraguan rebels; and, to support them, secretly selling arms to Iran.

Jimmy Carter for covertly arming anti-Soviet warriors in Afghanistan, after candidate Carter pledged to involve the American people in forming foreign policy; also for threatening war if the USSR invaded the Persian Gulf region.

Gerald Ford for sacrificing 41 marines in an assault on a Cambodian island, aimed at freeing a seized merchant ship that would be freed anyway,

Richard M. Nixon and predecessor Lyndon B. Johnson for millions of needless deaths — including those of 58,220 Americans — from lawless war in Indochina; also for interventions by Nixon in Chile and Johnson in the Dominican Republic.

John F. Kennedy for secretly approving the Bay of Pigs invasion and sabotage in Cuba; for risking war with the USSR over nuclear missiles in Cuba (though the U.S. had put nuclear missiles in Turkey); and for sending South Vietnam weapons and thousands of troops, dubbed “advisors.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower for overthrowing governments in Iran and Guatemala; approving Cuba’s invasion; and, as “defense” policy, threatening “massive retaliation,” i.e. nuclear doom for many millions.

Harry S. Truman for plunging America into the Korean conflict without the constitutional authorization of Congress; and for war crimes: razing communities in Japan and Korea,

Franklin D. Roosevelt for repeatedly promising peace but preparing war: deploying troops, arming Britain, engaging German U-boats, and provoking Japan economically and militarily while massing ships in Pearl Harbor. Later, for violating international law by bombing civilians, which in 1939 he called “inhuman barbarism.”

Historical note

The first impeached president was Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor, in 1868. The House charged him mainly with violating the Tenure of Office Act by replacing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. The act, 1867–1887, required Senate concurrence for dismissal of Senate-confirmed officials. By one vote, the Senate missed conviction. The dispute reflected differences over Johnson’s lenient reconstruction policy.

Johnson’s trial, like the three impeachment trials since 1998, turned out more political than judicial. What did the Constitution’s drafters expect? The jurors are politicians.


By Paul W. Lovinger, Nov. 2, 2023.