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Where I Stand Impeachment 101

March 18, 2019

The announcement that the House Judiciary Committee has begun a wide-ranging investigation into potential misconduct by the President marks the beginning of a process that could result in impeachment and removal from office. With that in mind, I offer some words of advice, based on experience, for members of Congress.

This is not jury duty. Your deliberations as members of a committee of inquiry, or as members of the House considering impeachment, or as senators hearing a trial of articles of impeachment and voting on removal from office are completely different than those of jurors. You may seek out your own information. You may hold preconceived opinions. You may consult with your constituents about your vote. You may investigate allegations on your own. You may bring forth your own evidence. You may base your decision on whatever information is available and persuasive to you.

This is not a criminal trial. There need not be specific allegations at first. When articles of impeachment are considered, they need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In fact, there is no evidentiary standard. Hearsay, conjecture, your own political instincts are all fair game. There is no appeal from your decision.

The late President Gerald R. Ford said it best: “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

The United States Constitution, and that of all the states, provides this extraordinary procedure designed to protect the integrity and legitimacy of government in a time of crisis.

This is a political remedy to a political problem. It is a process that frustrates and confounds the best criminal defense attorneys. It is not court. You must not be distracted by legal arguments that assume trial-like procedures and standards.

The President may ultimately have his day in court. However, an impeachment process is uniquely legislative, not judicial.

Impeachment and removal, in effect, is the undoing of a democratic election. By design, it is and should be extremely difficult to undertake. There may come a time when it is both appropriate and necessary. You must decide if this is such an occasion.

If you feel that our nation’s government is at risk due to the actions of the president, you should exercise the extraordinary power the constitution gives to you: Remove him from office.

One cautionary note: For reasons both practical and fundamental, removal from office must be a bipartisan, consensus decision.

Connecticut faced such a crisis in 2004. Our once popular three-term governor shocked the state with a series of unbelievably brazen corrupt acts and subsequent false denials. The Connecticut House of Representatives convened an evenly divided, bipartisan Committee of Inquiry. Six months later John G. Rowland resigned from office. In the ensuing months he was indicted, convicted and sent to federal prison.

Although our legislature was dominated by Democrats and Gov. Rowland was a Republican, an early consensus among legislators of both parties in the General Assembly foretold the outcome. If you achieve such a consensus in the Congress, and if you believe that consensus is mirrored throughout the nation, you should act on it.

Mike Lawlor, the former criminal justice adviser in the Malloy administration, is the Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at the University of New Haven.