This week at In The Past Lane, the American History podcast, I speak with historian Jeffrey Engel, co-author of “Impeachment: An American History.” With all the talk about impeachment over the past two years, this seems like a superb moment to do an episode on the history of this rarely-used constitutional mechanism.
In the course of our discussion, Jeffrey Engel explains:
Why the Founders’ fear of potential abuse of power by a president or high government official led them to include an impeachment provision in the US Constitution.
Why the Founders made a key distinction between maladministration – essentially doing a bad job as president – and actions taken by the president that harm the nation. Only the latter required impeachment.
How the Founders meant by “high crimes and misdemeanors”
actions that might not be illegal, but are judged to be harmful to the nation.
Why Republicans decided to impeach President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and how Johnson’s own actions and personality played a key role in his near removal from office.
What Richard Nixon did to merit the commencement of impeachment proceedings against him – a process he avoided by resigning.
How in the aftermath of Watergate, Congress changed the rules to allow future special prosecutors investigating alleged presidential wrongdoing greater freedom and independence.
And how that reform led to the wide-ranging investigation of President Bill Clinton that started with a sketchy land deal in Arkansas and ended up focused on an affair between the president and a 22-year old intern named Monica Lewinsky.
And in turn, how that experience led to new rules that restricted the independence of special prosecutors, leading to the current day complaints by some that SC Robert Mueller was not allowed to fully investigate the many charges against President Trump.
And, finally, what it means that we might soon witness the third impeachment effort in the last 50 years, after having only one impeachment in the first 185 years of the nation’s history.
Jeffrey Engel, Impeachment: An American History (Modern Library Press)
Howard Fields, High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Nixon Impeachment— Roadmap for the Next One
Richard A. Posner, An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton
David O. Stewart, Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy
Cass R. Sunstein, Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide
Jeffrey Toobin, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President
Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz, To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment
Brenda Wineapple, The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation
More info about Jeffrey Engel – website
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Music for This Episode
Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (JayGMusic.com)
Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)
Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)
Blue Dot Sessions, “Sage the Hunter” (Free Music Archive)
Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)
The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)
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