Former Federal Prosecutor Explains Why Trump Didn't Need to Commit Crimes to Be Impeached

A CNN legal expert appeared on the channel Monday to explain why committing a crime is not the only grounds for impeaching President Donald Trump or any American president—and broke it down in a slide presentation.

The legal expert, former federal prosecutor Elie Honig, went on CNN's New Day program to explain what he believed would be in the House of Representatives' official articles of impeachment. He said that the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on December 4 about the constitutional grounds for impeachment, and noted that the president himself opted to not send lawyers of his own to testify.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing in the impeachment inquiry on Wednesday. @eliehonig explains what to expect.

— New Day (@NewDay) December 2, 2019

"This is an interesting opportunity for Democrats," Honig said. "I think they need to keep it simple and drive home two simple points. Number one: Impeachment is not a coup. It's not a hostile takeover; it is in our constitution. It's the tool that the Constitution gives us to remove corrupt officials."

His second point was that a crime is not needed in order to impeach an official. On the screen behind him, Honig brought up what he called a "famous phrase" from the Constitution, from Article II, Section 4 of the document, which states that "Treason, Bribery or Other High Crimes and Misdemeanors" are required to impeach a public official.

"The U.S. House of Representatives has impeached officials—not presidents, but other officials—for offenses including 'intoxication,' ... 'tyranny and oppression,' ... and 'favoritism.'

Honig explained that three prior impeachment hearings against U.S. presidents did not involve crimes. The hearings against both Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon, which took place in 1868 and 1974, were begun because the presidents were believed to have abused their power, not because they had committed a crime. The draft article of impeachment written in 1999 against Bill Clinton was also based on the allegation that he had abused his power, not because of a crime, he said.

Honig added that he believed it is likely that the articles of impeachment that the House of Representatives is drafting will follow this historical trend of being based on claims of abuse of power rather than on crime.

On the screen behind him, Honig brought up an image of a November 25 letter written by House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff that was released to the public. Schiff, along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, spearheaded the launch of the impeachment inquiry against Trump.

Schiff's letter offered clues about what the official articles impeachment will say, Honig argued. The first article of impeachment, he said, will state that the president should be impeached because he abused his power in asking the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden's son.

"What I thought was really interesting is, in his letter, Adam Schiff does not mention any specific crime—no mention of bribery, no mention of extortion, no mention of quid pro quo," he said. "He's going to phrase it, I believe, broadly as abuse of power."

There will be a second article for impeachment, Honig predicted, for obstruction of Congress—meaning that Trump tried to impede Congress's efforts to investigate the phone call he had with Ukraine's president.

Honig added that there may be a third article tied to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's purported ties to Russia, based on a sentence in Schiff's letter that said Trump "again" sought help from foreign powers to interfere in U.S. politics. The word "again," Honig argued, is the clue.

Members of the House could see drafts of the articles as soon as Monday evening, he said. They will discuss and debate them throughout the coming week.

House Intelligence Committee Continues Open Impeachment Hearings
Fiona Hill, former National Security Council Russia expert, center right, and David Holmes, counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, center left, testify during a House Intelligence Committee impeachment inquiry hearing on Capitol Hill November 21, 2019 in Washington, DC. Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty