Key Democrat Witness Noah Feldman in May: ‘Impeaching Trump Has Become Too Political to Take Seriously’

Prof. Noah Feldman speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the impeachment of US President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, December 4, 2019. - The next phase of impeachment begins December 4, 2019 in the US Congress as lawmakers weigh charges against Donald Trump, after the …
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman, one of the Democrats’ star witnesses called to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, authored an op-ed in May lamenting the lack of seriousness surrounding efforts to impeach President Trump, and admitting that House Democrats “made it painfully clear that discussing impeachment is primarily or even exclusively a tool to weaken Trump’s chances in 2020.”

Feldman authored an op-ed featured in Bloomberg in May titled, “It’s Hard to Take Impeachment Seriously Now” and suggested that many of the ongoing discussions of impeaching Trump treat the action as a “trivialized gambit within the ordinary game of electoral politics.”

“Impeachment was intended by the constitutional framers as a highly serious option reserved for only the most extraordinary, egregious violations of the rule of law,” he wrote.

“Today’s discussion treats impeachment as a trivialized gambit within the ordinary game of electoral politics. The undermining of the constitutional ideal is near-total,” he continued, calling it “almost laughable.”

Throughout the article, Feldman stresses the serious nature of impeachment – something, he alluded, has been absent from the ongoing discussions on impeaching Trump. While he acknowledged the “political” aspects of impeachment, he argued that the Founding Fathers deliberately made “successful impeachment and removal very difficult, precisely to discourage Congress from taking the whole process lightly.”

“They chose words with grand implications — ‘high crimes’ — to underscore that removing the president outside of elections must not be undertaken lightly,” he wrote, ultimately observing that the ongoing debate surrounding impeaching Trump “robbed impeachment of its original serious content and atmosphere.” He continued:

Yet somehow, all the talk in the last two and a half years has robbed impeachment of its original serious content and atmosphere. Maybe it’s just too many rapid-fire conversations on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, with their constant drumbeat of partisan prediction and preoccupation. We have talked about impeachment in the partisan context so much that we can no longer imagine it as something more than an electoral ploy.

He blamed both sides, specifically highlighting the Democrats’ calls to impeach Trump – calls which increased around the 2018 midterm election

Feldman said:

The blame for this development goes to both parties. Since the 2018 midterm election, House Democrats have made it painfully clear that discussing impeachment is primarily or even exclusively a tool to weaken Trump’s chances in 2020. You almost never hear a Democrat say, “We have a moral duty to impeach even if it will cost us the election in 2020.” Rather, the idea of impeachment and the idea of electoral advantage have become inextricably entwined. (Emphasis added)

His critique of Republicans did not pack as much of a punch. He argued that they, along with Trump, were likely goading Democrats into seriously pursuing impeachment, knowing it would benefit the president politically in the long run by energizing his base – a phenomenon that is beginning to come to fruition. According to Feldman:

On the Republican side, there has been much gleeful speculation that a Democratic effort to impeach Trump would bring out the Republican base in huge numbers. Trump himself is clearly toying with the possibility that this might be true — hence his recent efforts that seem to be daring the Democrats into action, or at least making them look like wimps if they don’t impeach him.

Notably, Feldman ended his piece by placing the bulk of the blame on Trump rather than Democrats, despite clearly laying out the case that it is Democrats – not Republicans – who are ultimately attempting to use impeachment to fulfill their political goals – i.e. to prevent Trump from serving a second term.

He wrote:

That leaves us with the preposterous notion that the president could or would somehow bring about his own impeachment to help him get re-elected. Gone is the traditional notion that impeachment itself would be a blot on Trump’s reputation. Not that Trump has ever cared much about reputation in the ordinary sense, but he very clearly wants to be remembered as a great president. In his mind, however, being impeached apparently wouldn’t stand in the way of his lionization as a leader.

Trump’s beliefs about politics and the Constitution are nothing if not a reflection of this instant in time. That he is treating impeachment as mere rhetoric shows that impeachment has lost its sting. That’s sad enough for now. It will be much, much sadder in the future, the next time we need impeachment to mean something.

Ironically, Feldman is one of many who, according to his own assessment, has not taken impeachment seriously. He co-authored a piece in September 2017 titled “The Case for Impeachment.”

On Wednesday, Feldman agreed with the other Democrat witnesses, concluding that Trump committed an impeachable offense:

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