The presidency, crime and punishment...

Please no politics!

The presidential indictments of recent history seemed to be because of pretty serious crimes that really had something to do with the job (Nixon - wiretapping, conspiracy on the break-in etc; Clinton - sexual harassment as best I could tell)

What is the least serious crime that you could commit and get indicted? Not that anyone would be stupid enough to do this, but could you lose the presidency over shoplifting a pack of gum or spray painting “Tom Daschle sux” on the Capitol Building?

The president could be indicted for anything that is criminal in whatever jurisdiction he is currently in.

I think the question you are asking is "What is the least serious crime that he could commit and be subject to impeachment? The answer is that it is up to the House of Representatives, who issue the Articles of Impeachment. If they wanted to impeach the president for shoplifting a pack of gum, they certainly can do so.

Zev Steinhardt

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution says: “The president, vice president, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

So while some member of the H of R could theoretically make a motion for impeachment based on nothing more than stealing chewing gum, it is highly unlikely that it would be seconded, let alone passed.

Without wanting to revisit all the issues involved, what Clinton was charged with in the impeachment hearings was not the sexual harrassment (or whatever) as such, but lying about it. Just as Nixon’s coverup attempts harmed him much more than the actual break-in.

Nixon was never impeached; he resigned to avoid this. Clinton was impeached for lying under oath, and obstruction of justice.

The only other President to be impeached was Andrew Johnson. His articles of impeachment contained eleven different charges. He was acquitted, as the Senate failed to reach the required two-thirds majority.

For the rest of it, Zev has it correct. The President can be impeached (sort of equivalent to indictment) for anything the House of Representatives thinks is bad enough. The trial then occurs before the Senate.


In THEORY, the President of the United States could be arrested for shoplifting the pack of chewing gum, sure. He would be taken downtown and booked, same as any other petty thief.

In PRACTICE, wouldn’t happen. Not for a minute.

And when it says “misdemeanors,” does it mean “high misdemeanors?”

And if so, what are they? I take it the pack of chewing gum doesn’t qualify? Have to, like, swipe the one-pound bag, mm?

Again, the constitution is vague. And so, the president can be impeached for any action that can muster enough votes in congress. Impeachment of a president is an inherently political action, there is no impartial body that can do this. So the framers of the constitution wisely left the action up to Congress. The President can be impeached by Congress, but Congress is accountable to the people.

If the President were impeached for shoplifting a pack of gum, the people are certainly free to make their displeasure known to the members of congress who voted for that impeachment. Something similar happened to the Republicans over the Clinton impeachment. While few members of congress were voted out of office, it certainly was a net loss for the pro-impeachment forces.

A future congress will certainly take into account the experience during the Clinton impeachment, and would be much shyer about impeachment unless they were in a much stronger position legally and politically.

Arrgh. I didn’t realize I had screwed up the terms.

Thanks, everyone!