AG Hill publicly opposing Trump impeachment

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is publicly renouncing the articles of impeachment brought against President Donald Trump, traveling to Washington, D.C., this week to join 20 other attorneys general in opposition to the impeachment proceedings.

Hill, a Repbulican, was one of 21 attorneys general who signed a letter to the United States Senate, urging members of the chamber to reject the two articles of impeachment accusing the Republican president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Hill and the Republican Attorneys General Association, of which he is member of the executive committee, announced the letter in press releases.

Hill told Indiana Lawyer he signed on to the letter in his official capacity as the elected attorney general, quoting the letter in saying he has “a special duty to defend the integrity of votes cast by (the) citizens and electors during (the 2016) election.

“However, our interests go well beyond that particular election,” the letter continues in its opening paragraph. “This impeachment proceeding threatens all future elections and establishes a dangerous historical precedent.”

A spokeswoman for Hill’s office did not directly answer questions about whether state dollars funded Hill’s travel to D.C. to participate in a Wednesday press conference, or about whether his participation in the letter was tied to his reelection campaign in any capacity, repeating only that he participated in his official capacity.

The letter — also signed by the AGs of South Carolina, Louisiana, Utah, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia — presents legal and practical arguments against both articles of impeachment.

As to the abuse of power charge, the letter says the article’s “corrupt motive” theory would make the president “impeachable for what his political adversaries perceive his thoughts to be.” The obstruction of Congress charge, the AGs wrote, would essentially nullify executive privilege if upheld.

“The Senate should not adopt the specious and legally vacuous theories of ‘corrupt motives’ and ‘unilateral control,’” the letter says. “Both theories present the same destructive seed of thought: that a President may be removed from office for exercising his lawful constitutional privilege and authority.”

The abuse of power charge stems from Trump’s July 2019 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump, according to the impeachment article, “solicit(ed) the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations” into former vice president and now presidential candidate Joe Biden, and into the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. The article says Trump “conditioned” two official acts on Zelensky’s compliance – the release of military aid and a White House meeting.

But “(p)oliticians regularly act in an official capacity in ways that are or may have political benefit,” the attorneys general wrote to the Senate. “… Under House Democrats’ corrupt motives theory, however, a President who negotiates a nuclear deal with Iran or a trade deal with China can be impeached for abuse of power if the House majority believes the deal was ‘motivated’ by a desire to enhance the President’s re-election prospects rather than to benefit the country.”

Further, the AGs said, the president is “the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations,” quoting United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corporation (1936) to bolster their argument.

“… (I)mpeachment based upon the President’s exercise of his foreign relations power is inherently dangerous,” they wrote, “precisely because he has broad constitutional discretion, the exercise of which often generates intense political and policy disagreements.”

Similarly as to the obstruction of Congress charges, the letter quotes Zivotosky v. Kerry, 135 S. Ct. 2076, 2086 (2015), and its holding that Congress “has no constitutional power that would enable it to initiate diplomatic relations with a foreign nation.”

“The conduct of foreign diplomacy is one such ‘exclusive province’ of the President …,” the letter continues, referencing Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109, 112 (1959).

The crux of the obstruction of Congress charge is Trump’s claim of executive privilege to defy House impeachment subpoenas and to instruct other executive branch officials to do the same. But under Barenblatt, the AGs said, the nature of the subpoenas overstepped into matters within the “exclusive province” of the president.

“Notably, the (United States v. Nixon) Court stated that communications involving ‘military, diplomatic or sensitive national security secrets’ may be entitled to even higher deference than normally accorded domestic policy communications. The nine individuals … who invoked executive privilege were all subpoenaed because the House impeachment committees wanted to ask them about communications relating to President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president and the administration’s decision to apportion Ukrainian military aid funds.”

The AGs’ letter also invoked the Framers to support the argument that Trump’s conduct does not rise to the impeachment level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“The history of how the ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ language came to be adopted thus clearly demonstrates that, in the Framers’ view, it had narrower scope than ‘maladministration’ or other more similarly broad terms that had been rejected at various stages, including ‘neglect of duty,’ ‘malversation,’ and ‘corruption,’” the letter says. “While these words had been considered at some point, none survived as a basis for impeachment because their subjectivity and breadth raised the specter of the Framers’ biggest fear — that impeachment would become a tool for unseating a duly-elected President based on mere policy or political disagreements with Congress.

“… If the Senate does not reject the politically-motivated, manufactured theories upon which the impeachment articles are based, the House will be emboldened to base future impeachment efforts upon the same vague, boundless, and destructive theories,” the letter concludes. “Indeed, because congressional precedents establishing the contours of impeachable conduct are wholly insulated from judicial review, it is imperative that the Senate’s basis for rejecting the articles against President Trump be clear for future generations.

“We, therefore, urge the Senate to reject the Articles of Impeachment.”

After the House impeached the president along party lines late last year, the formal impeachment trial began in the Senate this week, with Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}