House Democrats, on the second day of their opening arguments at the Senate impeachment trial, used a familiar face to make their case against President Donald Trump. In a 1999 video clip played on the Senate floor, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close ally of the president, can be seen directly contradicting a core plank of Trump’s current defense.
So far, Trump’s counsel has argued that his actions do not constitute a crime or a violation of the law, and as such do not meet the threshold needed for impeachment. This reasoning is flawed for a variety of reasons, as Vox’s Ian Millhiser has explained, and it appears Graham once agreed.
In a clip introduced by House impeachment manager Jerry Nadler, Graham is seen explaining — during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999 — why an abuse of power by the president qualifies as a “high crime and misdemeanor.”
“What’s a high crime?” Graham says in the video. “It doesn’t even have to be a crime. It’s just when you start using your office and you’re acting in a way that hurts people, you’ve committed a high crime.”
The two articles of impeachment passed by the House last December charge Trump with abuse of power in his alleged efforts to obtain political favors in exchange for military aid to Ukraine, and obstruction of Congress.
As Millhiser wrote, Trump’s counsel’s pushback on these charges isn’t exactly backed by legal experts or existing precedent:
There are two problems with this argument. One is that Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine into opening a political investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden likely violates at least one federal criminal statute.
More importantly, it does not matter whether Trump’s actions were criminal — they still may form the basis of an impeachment. Yes, the Constitution states that public officials may only be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” but that phrase had an expansive meaning when it was written into the Constitution.
As Justice Joseph Story explained in 1833, “there are many offences, purely political, which have been held to be within the reach of parliamentary impeachments, not one of which is, in the slightest manner, alluded to in the statute books.”
And Nadler for much of his Thursday remarks hammered on this exact point, citing testimony from numerous legal scholars including Jonathan Turley, an expert witness called by House Republicans last year.
“Everyone except President Trump and his lawyers agree that presidents can be impeached for abuse of power,” Nadler emphasized. Everyone, it seems, including Graham’s younger self.