High Crimes and Misdemeanors
Featured Rightgrrl February 1999
February 1, 1999
I have been hearing and reading so much commentary about the impeachment trial, I decided to do a little research. I sat down and reread the entire Constitution, and looked up several terms in law dictionaries, regular dictionaries, and the encyclopedia. Here is what I found.
There are two sections in the Constitution that are relevent to the impeachment of the President.
Article I, Section 3
"...The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.
Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law."
Now this section of the Constitution is what the Democrats are using to try for Censure, or some other slap on the wrist, even if the Senate convicts Clinton on the articles of impeachment. However, if you look at the other section that has to do with impeachment you will see that they are, as usual, twisting what the Constitution says.
Article II, Section 4.
"The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
This article does not say, "The Senate can either remove him from office or make up a punishment that they deem appropriate." It says, "..SHALL be removed from office on impeachment formand conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The Constitution very clearly states that the punishment upon conviction is removal from office. There is no choice on the part of the Senate. Which brings me to my next point.
2. What are High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and do the charges against Clinton qualify as such?
Many liberal politicians and pundits claim that the offenses Clinton is being tried for in the Senate do not constitute impeachable offenses. First let's look at what the impeachable offenses are; "...treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Okay, we know what treason and bribery are, so what are "high crimes and misdemeanors?" I couldn't find a definition for high crimes in any of the references I checked, and I checked several, so we'll look at the legal definitions of high and crimes.
- High: This word has various signifcations:
- 1. Principal or chief, as high constable, high sheriff.
- 2. Prominent, in a bad sense, as high treason.
- 3. Open, not confined, as high seas. (1)
The definition we are concerned with here is "2. Prominent, in a bad sense, as high treason." So what does prominent mean?
- 1. Projecting outward or upward from a line or surface; protuberant.
- 2. Immediately noticeable; conspicuous. See synonyms at noticeable.
- 3. Widely known; eminent.(2)
Then there is the definition of crime:
- CRIME. A crime is an offence against a public law. This word, in its most general signification, comprehends all offences but, in its limited sense, it is confined to felony.(1)
So, if we combine the definitions of high and crime, a high crime is:
- High Crime: An offense against a public law that is immediately noticable, conspicuous, or widely known.
If you will notice, the definition of crime also states,"This word, in its most general signification, comprehends all offences but, in its limited sense, it is confined to felony." Let's assume that the Constitution uses the limited definition of crime when it states "high crimes and misdemeanors." The charges against Clinton are perjury and obstruction of justice. Are these crimes considered felonies? Title 18, section 1621 of the U.S. Code states:
- (1) having taken an oath before a competent tribunal, officer, or person, in any case in which a law of the United States authorizes an oath to be administered, that he will testify, declare, depose, or certify truly, or that any written testimony, declaration, deposition, or certificate by him subscribed, is true, willfully and contrary to such oath states or subscribes any material matter which he does not believe to be true; or
- (2) in any declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury as permitted under section 1746 of title 28, United States Code, willfully subscribes as true any material matter which he does not believe to be true; is guilty of perjury and shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. This section is applicable whether the statement or subscription is made within or without the United States.
So now we have a definition for and the penalty for perjury. What is a felony?
- felony: A serious crime (contrasted with misdemeanors and infractions, less serious crimes), usually punishable by a prison term of more than one year or, in some cases, by death. For example, murder, extortion and kidnapping are felonies; a minor fist fight is usually charged as a misdemeanor, and a speeding ticket is generally an infraction.(3)
So, if the penalty for perjury is not more than 5 years, according to the U.S. Code, and a felony is a crime punishable by more than 1 year in prison, then perjury is a felony. Now, what about the other charge, obstruction of justice?
- Dictionary definition: obstruction of justice: The criminal offense, under common law and according to the statutes of many jurisdictions, of obstructing the administration and due process of law: "the violations of the Constitution, the abuse of power, the obstruction of justice, the subversion of government, the lies to Congress and the American people" (Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.).(2)
From Title 18 of the U.S. Code as it pertains to Clinton:
Sec. 1505. Obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees
- Whoever, with intent to avoid, evade, prevent, or obstruct compliance, in whole or in part, with any civil investigative demand duly and properly made under the Antitrust Civil Process Act, willfully withholds, misrepresents, removes from any place, conceals, covers up, destroys, mutilates, alters, or by other means falsifies any documentary material, answers to written interrogatories, or oral testimony, which is the subject of such demand; or attempts to do so or solicits another to do so; or
- Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress - Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
Sec. 1515. Definitions for certain provisions; general provision:
- (b) As used in section 1505, the term ''corruptly'' means acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including making a false or misleading statement, or withholding, concealing, altering, or destroying a document or other information.
So, Obstruction of Justice is also a felony. Looking at these definitions, it is my opinion that Clinton is guilty of both perjury and obstruction of justice. Also, looking at the definition of high crimes, these offenses would be considered high crimes.
3. What is the Senate's actual job in all of this?
All of this just affirms that the House of Representatives was correct in impeaching the president for these offences. Once the House has impeached the president, it is the Senates job to decide whether or not the president is guilty of the charges. It is not the Senates job to decide whether or not they are impeachable. I refer you again to the Constitution:
From Section 2
The House of Representatives shall choose their speaker and other officers; and shall have the sole power of impeachment
From Section 3
The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.
4. My conclusions
My conclusions from all of these dry definitions and legal mumbo-jumbo?
- If the Senate convicts Clinton, the only legal punishment if removal from office.
- The charges of perjury and obstruction of justice are felonies, and fit the definition of high crimes.
- Clinton is guilty of these charges.
- It is not the Senate's place to decide whether or not the offences are impeachable. The House has already done so. It is the Senate's job to either convict or aquit.
Unfortunately, the Democrats in the Senate don't seem to care anything about impartiality. They will most likely vote along party lines and Clinton will not be convicted. Although, they may surprise me. I guess I'll just have to wait and see.
The Constitution of the United States
The United States Code
Bouvier's Law Dictionary (1856)
Shark Talk-Everybody's Law Dictionary
This article copyright © 1999 by Cheri Jackson, and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.