Article II, Section 4 says: The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. [NOTE: Members of Congress are not subject to impeachment but either house can expel a member for cause.]
There is little debate about the meaning of the terms “Treason” and “Bribery.”
Treasonis defined in the Constitution.
Article III, Section 3 defines Treason as follows: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
Briberyis not defined in the Constitution, but as the non-partisan Constitutional Rights Foundation, notes Bribery is a crime that has long existed in English and American common law. “It takes place when a person gives an official money or gifts to influence the official’s behavior in office. For example, if defendant Smith pays federal Judge Jones $10,000 to find Smith not guilty, the crime of bribery has occurred.” https://www.crf-usa.org/impeachment/high-crimes-and-misdemeanors.html
What did the framers mean by High Crimes and Misdemeanors?
As the Constitutional Rights Foundation says, most people, including many in Congress today, take the phrase to mean “any crime” either a serious crime like a felony or a lesser crime or misdemeanor. In other words, if no crime is committed then a person cannot be impeached for “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
That is not what the framers meant.
The framers were in agreement that treason and bribery should be grounds for impeachment plus something else. One committee proposed “treason, bribery and corruption.” George Mason of Virginia proposed “treason, bribery and maladministration.
The framers finally settled on “Treason, Bribery and other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
There was almost no discussion in the Constitutional Convention about the meaning of the term “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” since the framers KNEW what the term meant since it had been used in the English parliament for over 400 years as a grounds to impeach officials for crimes and non-crimes. These impeachable offenses included such things as:
· misappropriating government funds,
· appointing unfit subordinates,
· not prosecuting cases,
· not spending money allocated by Parliament,
· promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates,
· threatening a grand jury,
· disobeying an order from Parliament,
· arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament,
· losing a ship by neglecting to moor it,
· helping “suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament,” and
· granting warrants without cause.”
Some of these “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” were actual violations of law but others were not. Officials did not have to be found guilty of a crime to be impeached.
Perhaps Alexander Hamilton defined the meaning of the term High Crimes and Misdemeanors as understood by the authors of the Constitution best in Federalist NO. 65. He wrote that High Crimes and Misdemeanors were “those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” https://www.congress.gov/resources/display/content/The+Federalist+Papers#TheFederalistPapers-65
What is a "High Crime or Misdemeanor?
Any action by a President, Vice President or civil Officer of the United States that is
AN ABUSE OR VIOLATION OF SOME PUBLIC TRUST.