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Intent is Important in Impeachable Acts

Intent matters, and as much as Trump lacks character, nobody has yet to show he intended to commit a crime or cover one up.

Justin Amash responded on Twitter to arguments that lack of evidence of President Trump’s collision with Russia doesn’t preclude impeachment on grounds of obstruction.

He rebuts the argument that (1) there were no underlying crimes; (2) that a prosecutable underlying crime is required to charge obstruction; (3) that actual obstruction by a POTUS is therefore permitted if (1) and (2) are true.

This raises several further questions as to intent. In most criminal scenarios, the prosecution for obstruction presumes the intent to cover up a crime–specifically, the crime being investigated. With the Mueller report, Amash is implying that either Trump successfully covered up collusion by himself or his campaign staff, or that he intended to obstruct the investigation to protect himself from findings of further wrongdoing.

I am no lawyer (Amash is an attorney), but common sense says this argument boils down to intent. As a citizen, does the president have the right to defend himself from charges of criminal behavior and wrongdoing? Does he have a right to a vigorous defense? Ask Bill Clinton.

If Trump obstructed the investigation simply because he believed it to be politically motivated, or because he simply has a compulsion to oppose those who oppose him, is that criminal obstruction? If by Trump’s actions, others (some of whom were charged and convicted of process crimes, or other crimes uncovered by the investigation) may have been shielded, is that criminal intent?

Surely, impeachment is a political act of Congress. “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” is a term purposely left very loosely defined so that Congress could proceed in its own wisdom. Could Congress take what is in the Mueller report and conclude that it’s impeachable? Yes, of course.

But I believe that intent must be present. Unless there is hard evidence that Trump intended to cover up or obstruct the investigation because there is something there on collusion, whether, legally, the obstruction itself is chargeable, I don’t see how this can be teased away from the political impetus of the president to defend himself from these political charges.

In other words: Amash is trying to build a bridge between the politics of the investigation and the legal case that Trump did things which outside of politics would be chargeable as obstruction. That bridge is based on intent.

Both Mueller and Attorney General Bill Barr came to the correct conclusion. A political motivation of stopping an investigation is not necessarily intent to subvert the law–it could be no more than a man like Trump expressing his political will to defend himself. Congress has the ultimate power to decide if it is impeachable.

I respect the fact that Amash thinks it is.

However, that argument, interpreted broadly, would make practically every tweet Trump sends in the dark of night impeachable. Being ineloquent, untruthful, unstudied and undiplomatic are not in themselves impeachable crimes.

After two years of intense investigation that has not produced further evidence, if Amash wants Trump out of office, he should run against him, or leave the Republican Party and support one of the 24 Democrats in the race.

Intent matters, and as much as Trump lacks character, nobody has yet to show he intended to commit a crime or cover one up.

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