Bench Memos

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Cohen’s Curious Omission


NYT editorial writer Adam Cohen, drinking deep of the Left’s Kool-Aid, thinks Alberto Gonzales has committed impeachable offenses.  He doesn’t really want Gonzales tried–for the attorney general would certainly be acquitted, and for the best of reasons–he just wants him pressured into resigning.

Citing the example of Ulysses S. Grant’s secretary of war William Belknap, impeached on corruption charges and tried in the Senate despite his resignation, Cohen writes this very curious sentence: “Impeachment is usually thought of as limited to presidents, but the Constitution not only allows the impeachment of Cabinet members, in Belknap’s case, it was actually done.”

“[U]sually thought of as limited to presidents”?  Who thinks so?  Perhaps some citizens know only of the cases of Bill Clinton, the nearly impeached Richard Nixon, and (maybe) the barely acquitted Andrew Johnson.  But Cohen might not have left his readers’ education so incomplete if he had pointed out that while Belknap’s is the only case of an executive official other than the president being impeached, there have been far more impeachments of judges than of holders of any other office.  The House has impeached thirteen judges (including one Supreme Court justice); two resigned their offices and were not tried, while of the eleven who were tried, seven were convicted and removed from office.  You could look it up.

Belknap was acquitted, by the way–thanks to his resignation, and despite his fairly obvious guilt.  So far in history, three executive branch officials have been impeached and tried, all of them acquitted: Johnson, Belknap, and Clinton.  Also a senator, in a kind of “oops, never mind” case in which the senators figured out that the power didn’t really apply to one of their own, or to House members.

It’s just odd, isn’t it, that Cohen would entirely omit the fact that the principal use of the impeachment power has been against the corruptions of the judiciary?


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