George F. Will writes that the impeachment inquiry into President Trump will “affirm Congress’s primacy.” Indeed, by granting Congress the power to impeach, convict, and remove a sitting president, the Constitution reiterates the preeminence of the legislative branch.
What’s interesting is that the three most recent impeachment inquiries began not as exercises of congressional prerogative, but as investigations within the executive branch. Watergate involved the FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Justice. The Clinton impeachment catalyzed after the independent counsel delivered his report on the Lewinsky affair. Last week, despite resisting internal pressure for nine months, Nancy Pelosi announced the current inquiry only after an anonymous whistleblower lodged a complaint against the president with the inspector general of the Director of National Intelligence.
If, in the end, the House votes to impeach President Trump, the executive branch will have in effect impeached its titular head. The bureaucracies, especially the security services, will have revealed themselves as active players in determining their own leadership.
“In modern organizations,” John Marini writes in Unmasking the Administrative State, “those who work in the administrative structures often understand their interest in terms of institutional loyalty and their professional association, rather than the larger political good understood in terms of the nation or the Constitution. In short, the bureaucracies have developed the instinct for self-preservation at all costs.” Under such conditions, impeachment is less constitutionally clarifying than it might seem.