President Donald Trump’s defense relies partly on arguments in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson more than 150 years ago that impeachment requires a crime. Most legal scholars disagree, including a law professor called by Republicans in the House investigation to argue against impeaching Trump, reports the Associated Press. A lawyer for Johnson argued that Johnson could not be removed from office because he was not guilty of a crime. Johnson was acquitted by a single vote. Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz says that same argument — that impeachment requires “criminal-like conduct” — will be central to his defense on the president’s behalf.
Legal scholars dispute the idea that the Founding Fathers intended for impeachable offenses to require proof of a crime. And historians are equally dubious that the argument from Johnson’s lawyer, Benjamin Robbins Curtis, can be credited with securing Johnson’s narrow acquittal. At issue is the Constitution’s standard for impeachment: “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The threshold has been understood to encompass actual crimes. Legal scholars and Democrats disagree. Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri law professor and former student of Dershowitz at Harvard Law School, described the argument as “rubbish.” Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who argued to the House against impeachment, said such an argument was politically unwise and constitutionally shortsighted