Rep. Jerry Nadler pressed the House’s impeachment case against President Trump in the Senate Thursday using the words of one of Trump’s most ardent defenders — who is also a juror in the ongoing trial — to make the case that a president need not have committed a crime in order to be removed from office.
Nadler showed a video clip of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to argue that the Founding Fathers had not defined the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” — the basis specified in the U.S. Constitution for impeaching a president — leaving the question up to Congress. The video showed Graham speaking in 1999, when he was a member of the House, serving as an impeachment manager during the trial of then-President Bill Clinton.
“What’s a high crime? How about if an important person hurts somebody of low means? It’s not very scholarly, but I think it’s the truth. I think that’s what they meant by high crimes. Doesn’t even have to be a crime. It’s just when you’re using your office and you’re acting in a way that hurts people — you’ve committed a high crime.”
Nadler used the same tactic with retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is expected to argue on Trump’s behalf that impeachment requires proof that a law was broken, replaying a 1988 clip of the legal scholar saying the opposite on “Larry King Live.”
“It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime,” Dershowitz said in the clip Nadler played to the Senate. “If you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses greater danger to our liberty, you don’t need technical crime.”
Dershowitz, who was pressed about the seeming contradiction by CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday, said he was right about Clinton at the time, but having done additional research, “I’m much more correct right now.”
Trump’s Republican supporters in Congress have repeatedly stated that the president has not been accused of committing a crime and therefore cannot be removed from office. Democrats have cited a finding by the Government Accountability Office — which was made public after the articles of impeachment had been already approved by the House — that the Trump administration broke the law by withholding nearly $400 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine. But Nadler cited numerous precedents to argue that no formal crime is required in order to remove a president.
Nadler also pointed to past writings by Attorney General William Barr, including a memo he wrote in 2018 regarding how a president could be held accountable for misdeeds.
At that time, the issue was whether Trump could dismiss special counsel Robert Mueller, and Barr, then a lawyer in private practice, wrote an influential memo arguing that he could. Despite the appearance that this put the president above the law, Barr wrote, “The fact that President is answerable for any abuses of discretion and is ultimately subject to the judgment of Congress through the impeachment process means that the President is not the judge in his own cause.”
While Nadler’s tactic of using video clips and past writings at the trial will likely be replicated by Trump’s lawyers with his own conflicting statements on Clinton’s impeachment, singling out Graham, who is now serving as a juror, was notable.
Following Wednesday’s trial, Graham surprised some Republicans by lauding Rep. Adam Schiff, who is now in the position Graham once held, for his presentation of the case against Trump.
“Good job,” Graham told Schiff. “You’re very well-spoken.”
Graham apparently missed his moment on the Senate screen on Thursday, having left the chamber just moments before Nadler presented the clip.
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