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As impeachment pro­ceedings begin, the Repub­lican Party and con­ser­v­ative media are quick to defend Pres­ident Donald Trump.

Based on tes­timony and phone tran­scripts, we know Trump tried to leverage federal funds to pressure the Ukrainian gov­ernment into inves­ti­gating and sup­plying infor­mation that could damage 2020 pres­i­dential can­didate Joe Biden.

The specifics of the sit­u­ation are trivial. Democrats focus on the offer itself as an example of a quid pro quo, and are cur­rently hearing tes­ti­monies from dif­ferent offi­cials who have knowledge of the sit­u­ation. So far, several wit­nesses have sup­ported the quid pro quo nar­rative, sig­naling that Trump com­mitted some level of wrong­doing.

The next step for both Democrats and Repub­licans, seeing the over­whelming evi­dence, is arguing over the legality of Trump’s actions. It’s a com­pli­cated question that I, far from a legal expert, will leave alone. But the standard itself is worth ques­tioning.

In National Review, Victor Davis Hanson wrote a scathing cri­tique of Rep. Adam Schiff, D‑Calif., and the impeachment inquiry. Hanson wrote that wit­nesses in the inquiry were “inco­herent” regarding their ability to describe a vio­lation of the law com­mitted by the pres­ident.

“They never cite knowledge of pres­i­dential crimes but feel that Trump is dan­gerous,” he wrote.

Of course, he’s correct. No witness explicitly con­firmed that Trump broke the law, namely because the law in this domain is incredibly complex. That said, an impeachment pro­ceeding and suc­cessful unseating of a public official does not require any criminal vio­lation what­soever. This is where Hanson and others make a critical mistake.

Article II of the Con­sti­tution defines a valid impeachment as con­cerning “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and mis­de­meanors.” Treason and bribery are usually well-defined in the legal world, but the meaning of “high crimes and mis­de­meanors” is legally ambiguous and unde­fined within the con­sti­tution.

Luckily, Alexander Hamilton wrote about impeachment in Fed­er­alist 65. During the con­sti­tu­tional con­vention, many framers dis­agreed whether impeachment powers should reside in the courts, the leg­is­lature, or an entirely sep­arate body. Some even thought it should be left to state gov­ernors.

Even­tually, the leg­islative view won out, which Hamilton jus­tified in Fed­er­alist 65. In doing so, he illu­mi­nates the nature of impeachment.

The leg­is­lature has the ability to impeach based on “offenses which proceed from the mis­conduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or vio­lation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar pro­priety be denom­i­nated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done imme­di­ately to society itself.”

The Con­gres­sional Research Service agreed with this view in a 2015 report.

“The notion that only criminal conduct can con­stitute suf­fi­cient grounds for impeachment does not, however, comport with his­torical practice,” the report said.

A few para­graphs later: “‘Other high crimes and mis­de­meanors’ are not limited to indictable offenses, but apply to ‘serious vio­la­tions of the public trust…’. ‘High Crimes and Mis­de­meanors’ are thus best char­ac­terized as mis­conduct that damages the state and the oper­a­tions of gov­ernment insti­tu­tions.”

Put simply, the leg­is­lature can choose to impeach a pres­ident, or any public official, for vir­tually any act it deems corrupt or an abuse of power. Our standard is no longer limited to ille­gality but includes “abuse or vio­lation of some public trust,” and therefore we can under­stand impeachment in a much broader, con­tex­tu­alized sense.

How does this relate to Trump? If the leg­is­lature can bring impeachment articles against him for any abuse or vio­lation of public trust, it can do much better than the rel­a­tively minor Ukraine scandal.

There are dozens of examples of Trump vio­lating this prin­ciple, like when a lob­byist rep­re­senting Saudi Arabia paid to stay for 500 nights at the Trump Hotel in Wash­ington, D.C., or when Trump approved a mil­itary raid in Yemen which killed an eight-year-old American girl. The leg­is­lature could bring articles for cam­paigning on a Muslim travel ban, hiding his tax returns, or even refusing to pay con­tractors that work on his buildings.

Here, a problem unfolds. If any vio­lation of public trust is an impeachable offense, vir­tually every pres­ident in U.S. history, as well as thou­sands of department heads and other public ser­vants, could — and should — have been impeached.

Perhaps former Pres­ident Barack Obama should have been impeached when he autho­rized a drone strike on untried U.S. cit­izens. Or when NSA whistle­blower Edward Snowden revealed the extent to which the exec­utive branch, overseen by Obama, abused the law and vio­lated privacy rights. Using our new standard, former Pres­ident George W. Bush and former Vice Pres­ident Dick Cheney could easily have been impeached for lying to the public about Saddam Hussein’s asso­ci­ation with weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaeda.

High-profile impeachment pro­ceedings, as they are cur­rently used, rep­resent the whims of party alliances and power dynamics rather than any sem­blance of justice or fairness. Recall that former Pres­ident Richard Nixon was impeached in relation to doc­u­ments stolen from the Watergate building, not for carpet bombing Vietnam and killing mil­lions of people.

How did we stray so far? Every thoughtful American rec­og­nizes how corrupt and abusive our gov­ernment is. Excusing war crimes, explicit lies, and hor­ri­fying vio­la­tions of our privacy signals to public offi­cials that this type of behavior is acceptable.

Maybe this inter­pre­tation is exactly what America needs: a mass impeachment of corrupt public offi­cials who abuse their power and violate our trust. Let’s start with Trump.

Cal Abbo is a junior studying psy­chology and a columnist on Demo­c­ratic pol­itics. He is an assistant fea­tures editor for The Col­legian.