The charge of high crimes and misdemeanors covers allegations of misconduct by officials, such as perjury of oath, abuse of authority, bribery, intimidation, misuse of assets, failure to supervise, dereliction of duty, unbecoming conduct, refusal to obey a lawful order, chronic intoxication, and tax evasion. Offenses by officials also include ordinary crimes, but perhaps with different standards of proof and punishment than for nonofficials, on the grounds that more is expected of officials by their oaths of office.An example of a bad Wikipedia page.
The above came up in a Google search as an example of what the phrase High Crimes and Misdemeanors means, and it is a pretty common example of the kind of confusion that I see among the non-legally educated public. I’ve heard this dozens of times from a myriad of places; and the confusion over this phrase, like the confusion over the purpose of the Electoral College, is about to drive me nuts unless I take the time to explain it at least once.
If you were to speak to lawyers about the meanings of these terms, you would get a completely different answer than you would get out of the general public or from the mass media or social media. Specifically, High Crimes and Misdemeanors is a phrase in the U.S. Constitution. It is a term of art, not a type of crime that we must define through some mystic process in order for it to be understood. The definitions already exist.
A misdemeanor is a known quantity defined by law, just like a felony is defined by law.
Felonies and misdemeanors are two classifications of crimes used in most states, with petty offenses (infractions) being the third. Misdemeanors are punishable by substantial fines and sometimes jail time, usually less than one year. Felonies are the most serious type of crime and are often classified by degrees, with a first degree felony being the most serious. They include terrorism, treason, arson, murder, rape, robbery, burglary, and kidnapping, among others.Findlaw – Classifications of Crimes
There are many possible misdemeanors that could be charged against the sitting president, if a president could be indicted in the fashion that a normal citizen could be charged. I would go so far as to argue that this president should be charged as if he was a normal citizen considering that he is well beneath the quality of human being that I would define as normal, but the niceties of tradition and political maneuvering hamstring most of the arguments that would allow for the direct prosecution of a sitting president for provable crimes in your average courtroom in Washington D.C. or elsewhere.
Lacking the ability to bring charges against a sitting president directly, we have, by definition, to be able to remove a president without having to meet the high standards that a criminal prosecution would require; in other words, the bar for impeachment of a official is lower than the bar for convicting an average citizen. This is because the standards of behavior are higher for political officeholders than the standards of behavior for your average fry cook.
That is why the term high crimes is used in the U.S. Constitution rather than the legal term felony.
high crime : a crime of infamous nature contrary to public morality but not technically constituting a felony
specifically : an offense that the U.S. Senate deems to constitute an adequate ground for removal of the president, vice president, or any civil officer as a person unfit to hold public office and deserving of impeachmentWebster’s Legal Definition of High Crime
It is worth noting (h/t to Chris Hayes) that treason and bribery are listed crimes which can be brought against a sitting president for the purposes of impeachment, and that both treason and bribery can be proven from the behavior of Donald Trump without even breaking a sweat trying. This is above and beyond the phrase high crimes and misdemeanors which covers everything a president might do that was beneath treason and bribery but still not things a president should do.
…and that is why I have maintained that Donald Trump was a fool to even try to run for the office of the president for three years running. This is still my opinion, and the evidence for this opinion has only increased over his time in office. Impeachment is a pro forma operation when it comes to Trump, inc. His crimes are known. I, a layman, have detailed his crimes across the hundred-odd posts on this blog that I’ve written about this subject, and there are many more crimes that I’m sure I’ve missed in the last three years of the non-stop Trump media orgy we’ve all lived through. As to the specific criminal charges relating to the 2016 election that could be brought against him, those are icing on the cake. They aren’t needed, although everyone seems to think they are what will determine the future of the Trump presidency.
They won’t, because they aren’t the crimes that can be proven here and now. The Mueller report documents the crimes of obstruction that could be brought against Donald Trump, but he rightly or wrongly refused to bring those charges against him. In any case, the job of accusing and then convicting a sitting president and removing him from office falls to the Senate once articles of impeachment are passed by the House of Representatives. The crimes that can be proven right here and now without a protracted redaction fight in the courts are the financial crimes documented by his corporate accountants, and these crimes are a subpoena away from being proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.
A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #65
People who expect Trump to last another two years should probably hang onto their seats (yes, I’m looking at you) because it is liable to get really messy over the next 18 months. No one can tell you what will happen, because nothing like this has ever occurred in the history of the United States. We are in the moment of crisis when Rome became an empire and was no longer a Republic. We are in the twilight era when the USSR was ceasing to function, but continued to grind on for a decade and more through sheer inertia.
The impeachments should not be limited to Trump, either. The Attorney General, the Treasury Secretary, even the Vice President are all open targets based solely on their behavior within the Trump administration. The emoluments clause remains the albatross hanging around all of their necks, collectively. They have all conspired to allow Donald Trump to profit from the office of the president, allowed him to steal funds directly from all of us to further his own fortunes. This cannot be tolerated.
The Trump administration will end a longstanding requirement that certain nonprofit organizations disclose the names of large donors to the Internal Revenue Service, a move that will allow some political groups to shield their sources of funding from government scrutiny.New York Times
We The People not only expect but demand that we be told who buys whom and at what price, no matter how much power that person or group believes they have. This will be true for as long as as bribery, private financing for campaigns, is allowed. Mnuchin answers directly to Trump. He should be indicted along with Trump and the rest of his administration for high crimes and misdemeanors. This is no longer a request. #ImpeachTrump or join him on the dock to be charged with him. Pick one.
If you are afraid of where the truth might take you, if your loyalty is to a would be king and not the nation, then you are complicit. If you’re outraged at my words instead of at the thought of what that process might find, if you don’t want to know the truth, well, then you’re the problem.Stonekettle Station