Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Cass R. Sunstein

Congress Can’t Ignore a Clearly Impeachable Offense

If Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden, that’s “an egregious abuse of authority” and the Constitution would require the House to act.

A matter of duty.

A matter of duty.

Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

There are a lot of misconceptions about impeachment. Incompetence isn’t impeachable. It’s terrible for a president to violate the oath of office, but doing so is not, by itself, an impeachable offense. Even posing a danger to the American people isn’t a legitimate basis for impeachment.

Under the Constitution, what is necessary is a “high crime or misdemeanor,” meaning an egregious abuse of presidential authority. Some crimes would not count; consider shoplifting or disorderly conduct. An action that is not criminal might be impeachable; consider a six-month vacation, an effort to jail political enemies or an abuse of the pardon power (by, for example, pardoning associates who have engaged in criminal activity at the president’s behest).