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Impeachment Should Be on the Table If Trump Bombs Iran

We’re told that the Trump administration’s brinksmanship on Iran stems from a power grab [1] by President Donald Trump’s undeterrable national security advisor, John Bolton. And it’s true that Bolton has never met a “preventive” war he didn’t like [2] and that there’s every reason to suspect him of scheming to create an excuse for one. But lately it’s getting hard to distinguish President Trump from “President Bolton.” [3] “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran,” Trump rage-tweeted Sunday [4]. “Never threaten the United States again!”

If the administration can’t be convinced to stand down, the House of Representatives should launch a preemptive strike of its own. They should credibly threaten to impeach the president if he goes to war without congressional authorization.

Waging war without legal authority is an impeachable offense, if anything is. Impeachment was designed to thwart attempts to subvert the Constitution [5]; congressional control of the war power was one of that document’s core guarantees. “In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found,” James Madison affirmed [6], “than in the clause [7] which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department.”

The first federal impeachment case, brought less than a decade after the Constitution’s ratification, centered on charges of unauthorized warmaking. In 1797, the House impeached Tennessee Senator William Blount for conspiring to raise a private army for “a military hostile expedition” [8] against Spanish-held Louisiana and Florida, “in violation of the obligations of neutrality, and against the laws of the United States.” In the Founding era, usurpation of the war power was considered serious enough to merit the ultimate constitutional remedy.


No president has yet been impeached for illegal warmaking, but Richard Nixon came closest. In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee debated impeaching Nixon for conducting a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia “in derogation of the power of the Congress to declare war.” The article never made it into the final charges, possibly scuttled by Democratic leadership out of fear of revealing [9] “that a few prominent members of their party had known about the secret bombing at the time.” As Congressman William Hungate put it [10] afterwards: “It’s kind of hard to live with yourself when you impeach a guy for tapping telephones and not for making war without authorization.”

Current members of Congress should find it hard to live with themselves if they don’t do something to prevent the Trump administration from dragging us into an illegal and unnecessary war. Yet so far the congressional response has been limited to ineffectual grousing [11] and the introduction of a few bills that are wholly inadequate to the task at hand.

Instead the House should consider passing a resolution “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the use of offensive military force against Iran without prior and clear authorization of an Act of Congress constitutes an impeachable high crime and misdemeanor under article II, section 4 of the Constitution.”

The late, great Congressman Walter Jones [12], long one of the most jealous guardians of Congress’s power “to declare War,” proposed a similar measure [13] during President Obama’s second term, when the administration was publicly contemplating airstrikes on Syria. Jones introduced a concurrent resolution [14] stating that “except in response to an actual or imminent attack against the territory of the United States, the use of offensive military force by a President without prior and clear authorization of an Act of Congress” is an impeachable offense.

The Jones resolution only secured a handful of cosponsors and proved unnecessary in any event, when President Obama decided to seek congressional authorization [15] for airstrikes, then abandoned the effort [16] entirely. The stakes are far higher now.

The current House leadership is notably gun-shy about impeachment. But over the last two years, House Democrats have threatened to impeach Trump for much less. In the previous Congress, for example, Congressman Steve Cohen introduced articles charging Trump with, among other things, overspending on golf cart rentals at Mar-a-Lago [17]. In January 2018, Congressman Al Green got 66 Democratic votes [18] to move forward on a resolution to impeach Trump [19] for “attempting to convert his bigoted statements into United States policy” in the form of the travel ban and the ban on transgender troops.

Surely, more Democrats—and even a few Republicans, like Congressman Justin Amash—could rouse themselves to threaten impeachment to avoid a disastrous war in violation of a core constitutional guarantee.

Other options on the table. H.R. 2354 [20], barring funds for military action against Iran absent congressional authorization, can—and would—be vetoed by the president. A sense of the House resolution could not [21]. It wouldn’t have the force of law, but it would be more than mere symbolism: a shot across the administration’s bow and fair warning to the president. Moreover, a resolution publicly declaring war with Iran an impeachable offense could serve as a precommitment device for the House, a public pledge to take action should he cross that line.

Only two presidents have ever been impeached by the House, yet others still fear joining their ranks. Trump has claimed he’s “not even a little bit [22]” worried about the prospect, but insider accounts [23] and his public Twitter [24] feed [25] tell a different story. Earlier this week, he blew up [26] at Representative Amash for opining that he’d engaged in impeachable conduct: “Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!”

Impeachment’s purpose isn’t primarily to punish abuses after the fact—that would be cold comfort here—but to prevent damage from being done in the first place. “It will not be the only means of punishing misconduct, but it will prevent misconduct,” future Supreme Court justice James Iredell remarked [27] during the ratification debates in 1788. “Although he may be a man of no principle, the very terror of punishment will perhaps deter him.” But in law as in war, deterrence sometimes requires a credible threat.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of Indispensable Remedy: The Broad Scope of the Constitution’s Impeachment Power. [28]

42 Comments (Open | Close)

42 Comments To "Impeachment Should Be on the Table If Trump Bombs Iran"

#1 Comment By JimDandy On May 21, 2019 @ 10:34 pm


#2 Comment By Jim On May 22, 2019 @ 1:21 am

You think? I say lock the man up for war crimes if he bombs Iran. There will be no 911 this time, and that was the only way those last criminals were able to pull off their neocon fantasy in Iraq.

Trump is likely bluffing anyway. It’s not that he has some master plan behind it, it’s just how he does business. He creates chaos and then looks (and often finds) some advantage in the the tumult that follows.

#3 Comment By George Hoffman On May 22, 2019 @ 2:37 am

This constitutional abuse of the war powers article and the ascent of an Imperial Presidency began when President Harry Truman went to war in Korea and instituted a draft with an executive order to prosecute the war. Congress should have impeached him. But instead it later authorized both executive actions and its political position on this issue of war since then has been supine like an exhausted toothless whore. And now Mr. Healey expects it to find some vestige of its moral fortitude and redress this fragrant abuse of power? Mr. Healy, what planet are you living on? And is it in our solar system? The president has become essentially a constitutional dictator, and Congress merely rubber stamps his abuse of the Constitution with its war resolutions. Our nation crossed its Rubicon long ago.

#4 Comment By Ninth and Hennepin On May 22, 2019 @ 4:34 am

“…Over the last two years, House Democrats have threatened to impeach Trump for much less. In the previous Congress, for example, Congressman Steve Cohen introduced articles charging Trump with, among other things, overspending on golf cart rentals at Mar-a-Lago.”

The phrase “among other things” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.

#5 Comment By Artyom Strelok On May 22, 2019 @ 5:59 am

If/when we go to war with Iran, Trump’s defenders will cite the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists” to argue that they don’t need Congress.

#6 Comment By SteveM On May 22, 2019 @ 8:41 am

Below is a reposted comment to a related Daniel Larison entry. It distills down to this. A Congressional warning won’t do. Trump by making that statement is implicitly rejecting the oath he took to defend the Constitution of the United States. That rejection should be grounds for impeachment before he actually takes the United States to war.

And to reiterate on the comment, the Generals and Admirals in the Pentagon would be rejecting the oath they also took to the Constitution. They should sacked and even arrested for complying with Trump’s illegal and unconstitutional commands.

*** Repost ***

Christopher Preble at the Cato Institute has opined on preventive vs. pre-emptive war. What about preventive or pre-emptive impeachment?

Trump’s crazed threats against Iran are wildly unconstitutional. His threats contain no references to the Congress which has the sole authority to declare war. Trump is implying that he has war-making authority as President that the Constitution explicitly denies him.

Moreover, a Pentagon that supports Trump in his illegal war-mongering demonstrates allegiance to a self-anointed Emperor, not the Constitution. The sanctified “Generals” are a huge part of the problem whether in supporting the Saudi war crimes in Yemen or the war-mongering against Iran.

If I were in Congress, I’d move to impeach Trump now because if he starts a war, that bell can’t be unrung no matter how illegal and unconstitutional its origin.

#7 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On May 22, 2019 @ 9:01 am

One of the two reasons (the other being immigration) that I stifled nausea and voted for Trump was his belief that America had no business engaging in Wilsonian adventurism–and at this point clearly he, aided and abetted by that Rasputin wannabe, Bolton, appears to be backtracking on the latter. Under the circumstances Congress must assert its constitutional mandate to authorize all war making proposals made by a president and when a president attempts to act unilaterally, then he is in defiance of the US Constitution and subject to the impeachment process. All other cases proposed thus far for impeachment of Donald Trump pale in comparison to the issue of who decides to send American soldiers into harms way-an individual president or the collective representatives of the American people from whom those soldiers are drawn.

#8 Comment By HenionJD On May 22, 2019 @ 9:38 am

This is little chance of this happening when the leaders of both parties are beholden to the same foreign powers that lead Trump by the nose.

#9 Comment By spite On May 22, 2019 @ 9:39 am

This the same congress that has no problem passing laws banning BDS, so its not going to as long as Israel benefits.

#10 Comment By montag46 On May 22, 2019 @ 9:42 am

Hear, hear!

#11 Comment By Sid Finster On May 22, 2019 @ 9:53 am

Why wait for Trump to start a war on Iran?

His crimes in Yemen and Syria and Ukraine (to name but three) are enough for Trump (and many members of previous administrations) to be placed in irons and delivered over to await his fate.

#12 Comment By Sally Stewart On May 22, 2019 @ 10:04 am

Ninth & Hennepin,
Actually, it was for violating the Emoluments Clause…but referencing “overspending on golf cart rentals” has a juicier petty ring to it.

#13 Comment By LarryS On May 22, 2019 @ 10:12 am

Re: George Hoffman
“And now Mr. Healey expects it to find some vestige of its moral fortitude and redress this fragrant abuse of power?”

Fragrant: an appropriate malapropism. Fragrant like a barnyard.

#14 Comment By Underzog On May 22, 2019 @ 10:19 am

Guess what, you paleo Nazis? Do you know who hates Bolton as much as you guys do? The so-called “neo cons.” Dan Greenfield points out that Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot, and even Bill Kristol opposes a military incursion into your favorite country, Iran, because Donald Trump may be sympathetic to the idea.

Paleo cons and neo conservatives have united to defend an Iran first policy. Hatred of the POTUS makes strange bedfellows indeed.

#15 Comment By Salt Lick On May 22, 2019 @ 11:38 am

Congress has not declared war in 70 years and it won’t start now. War with Iran is supported by the leadership of both parties. The MSM is full speed ahead. Trump wants to run as a War President to unite the country behind him. Impeachment will be the last thing on anyone’s mind once the Middle East explodes and Trump promises to keep us safe from the terrorists hiding under everyone’s bed.

The Constitution is like a religious relic. Worship it at your own risk.

#16 Comment By TheSnark On May 22, 2019 @ 11:43 am

As I’ve tried to explain to my hyperventilating Democrat friends, getting enough votes in the House to impeach Trump is easy. But if you do that without a good shot at getting enough votes in the Senate to convict him, you are engaging in mental mastu…sorry, self-gratification.

Until enough R’s in the Senate grow a spine, we are stuck.

#17 Comment By Fred Bowman On May 22, 2019 @ 12:02 pm

Congress could impeach, but they won’t. Way to many Democrats & Republicans are beholden to AIPAC and the MIC and other warmaking interest to ever question a POTUS on taking America to war.

#18 Comment By Paul A’Barge On May 22, 2019 @ 12:48 pm

“No president has yet been impeached for illegal warmaking”

And you’re not going to start with Trump now.

Good grief, after the long list of grifters and worthless wankers we’ve had to put up with in the White House, you want to impeach Trump? After we’ve waited this long to get a President like Trump.

Sir, how about you suck a lemon and take a freaking hike.

#19 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On May 22, 2019 @ 1:36 pm

I’m strongly opposed to bombing Iran, but this article is stupid. The remedy is for Congress to exert its constitutional prerogative to declare war, and if necessary take the separation-of-powers controversy, as it pertains to War Powers, to SCOTUS for resolution.

The shorter-term remedy is to fire Bolton, and, if need be, Pompeo. Along with the injudicious Kushner (apologies to John Locke and “the judicious Hooker”), they’re making me wonder how I could have been such a saphead as to think Trump would drain the swamp.

#20 Comment By Rich614 On May 22, 2019 @ 1:44 pm

Congress should be the ones that authorize military action against any foreign country. Also, congress should consist of persons whose allegiance to America cannot be questioned. Our current congress doesn’t come close to that criteria. So, I guess we should do nothing until a direct attack is made on the U.S.

#21 Comment By One Guy On May 22, 2019 @ 1:50 pm

And even if the Senate votes to convict, who is going to make Trump leave? Maxine Waters? Mitch McConnell? Trump has the military, the FBI and the Secret Service. If he refuses to leave office, who will make him?

I guess the Founders didn’t think of that.

#22 Comment By Rich614 On May 22, 2019 @ 1:51 pm

Congress should be the ones that authorize military actions against any foreign country. Also, congress should consist of people that have America’s best interests at heart. Our current congress consists, mostly, of politicians that sought the position because they can make lots of money there – they don’t know much, or care much, about what best serves the country. So, I guess the best plan is to do nothing until we come under direct attack.

#23 Comment By Minnesota Mary On May 22, 2019 @ 1:52 pm

If Trump were to bomb Iran Congress would be right on board with him. Get a load of this letter that Congressmen sent to Trump. Scroll down to see all the names.


#24 Comment By Stephen J. On May 22, 2019 @ 2:27 pm

I believe “Impeachment” sounds good. But, I believe it is more serious than that. Based on the missiles fired into Syria illegally, and the continuing genocide in Yemen, Trump and other world “leaders need to be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Therefore I ask:
Are Mass Arrests Needed?
See also:

#25 Comment By JeffK On May 22, 2019 @ 2:39 pm

@One Guy says:
May 22, 2019 at 1:50 pm

“And even if the Senate votes to convict, who is going to make Trump leave? Maxine Waters? Mitch McConnell? Trump has the military, the FBI and the Secret Service. If he refuses to leave office, who will make him?

I guess the Founders didn’t think of that.”

If Trump is impeached and convicted, or loses in 2020, on Jan 21 2021 everybody will just ignore him. He can bluster and harangue and tweet as much as he wants. He will be an ex-president. Subject to the laws of the land.

And that’s why he is acting as he is now. He knows that once his presidency is over he will be eligible for prosecution of any laws he has broken. DOJ Office of Legal Counsel regulations will no longer be a shield.

By 2020 I suspect a large number of Republicans will be ready to see him gone.

#26 Comment By Roy Fassel On May 22, 2019 @ 2:49 pm

Trump is not going to war with Iran. Trump is not going to war with North Korea. Trump is not going to go to war against China. Trump is fully engaged already in his war against the US. Constitution and the rule of law. That will keep him fully occupied for some time. And yes, no matter what, his base will stay with him. After all, it is either Trump or the Far Left who are “baby killers” and “socialists.” FOX says so and so does Limbaugh. That is the Holy Scripture, inspired by Divine influence, circa 2019!

#27 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 22, 2019 @ 3:16 pm

Laughing. I would take this article a bit more seriously if it included nearly every executive including President Eisehower.

I am certainly not a fan of Iran. And I am certainly not on board the war wagon here as the case is mighty thin and then thinner than that. And while I have issues with his current leadership, I could not would not adavance or support impeachnent.

Had he not been electedwe would be in conflicts in multiple arenas. You bet I am ticked about I’m igrationand his cowardice on the question. You bet I chagrine the saber rattling. You bet I don’t buy WS as the key in7dicator of economic health. You bet I look At trade balances, part-time vs full timelabor. You bet I voted for this president knowing his leadership style.

No. I did not anticipate he go as far off the rails as he has.

No. I do not regret my vote. And no, I won’t support I parchment for anything less than some legal betrayal or crime. There’s a much better case for his behavior regarding the continued support for illegal immigration – and those consequences are immediate and impactful. But then that would mean I have joined the ranks of those who view impeachmentas mere political weapon.

If I thought the case against Pres. Nixon was a sham and beyond the pale and it was in all of its vengeful anti-Vietnam emotionalsm –

You’ll need more than rumors of wars or war to make case.

#28 Comment By JimDandy On May 22, 2019 @ 4:11 pm

Trump should be held accountable, but let’s be honest here–about Trump, American foreign police, etc.. Let’s simply take a look at these four excerpts from current news articles.

Trump, discussing the pressure he faces:

“President Trump, speaking about hostile foreign powers, Iran especially, told Fox News that if he can solve tensions economically, he prefers that to a military solution.

But he said he’s up against a military-industrial complex in Washington that wants to keep the wars going:

Well, I’m the one that talks about these wars that are 19 years (long), and people are just there. And don’t kid yourself, you do have a military industrial complex. They do like war.

You know, In Syria with the caliphate, so I wipe out 100% of the caliphate that doesn’t mean you’re not going to have these crazy people going around, blowing up stores and blowing up things, these are seriously ill people…But I wiped out 100 percent of the caliphate.

I said, I want to bring our troops back home — the place went crazy. They want to keep– you have people here in Washington, they never want to leave. I said, you know what I’ll do, I’ll leave a couple hundred soldiers behind, but if it was up to them they’d bring thousands of soldiers in.

Someday people will explain it, but you do have a group, and they call it the military-industrial complex.”

A respected international group’s findings on chemical weapon use in Syria, which has essentially been censored in the Mainstream Media:

“It has been about a week since the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) published a leaked internal document from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) investigation into an alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria last year. The document, whose authenticity the OPCW has confirmed, contends that the official story which was used to justify an air strike by the US, UK and France about poison gas being dropped on civilians from Syrian government helicopters is scientifically implausible, saying “In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being delivered from aircraft.”

America’s congress uniting to oppose Trump’s attempts at a sane foreign policy:

“Our congress will not come together on anything to help America but they will unite to defend Israel’s interests in Syria.

‘Nearly 400 members of Congress signed a bipartisan letter to President Donald Trump calling on him to safeguard Israel’s interests with Syria’s civil war coming to an end,” Haaretz reported Tuesday.’
And, lo and behold, right on time: the same ol’ government propaganda tactic, dusted off and thrust at the American people once again:

“The United States sees signs the Syrian government may be using chemical weapons, including an alleged chlorine attack on Sunday in northwest Syria, the State Department said on Tuesday, warning that Washington and its allies would respond “quickly and appropriately” if this were proven.”

#29 Comment By Daniel Good On May 22, 2019 @ 4:20 pm

It is not a case of confiding “war or peace to the legislature” since we are not really talking “war and peace”. We are talking “slaughter with impunity but for profit” as opposed to no profits. Iran can do little against being on the receiving end of missile target practice. Ideally The Pentagon should ask Iran for designated areas it can use to stage its missile strikes, keeping it of course secret from the American tax payer who want blood and devastation for their money.

#30 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 22, 2019 @ 4:53 pm

Glenn Healy — known by some over at the Cato Institute as “Mr. Impeachment “ (for the sheer volume of articles he has written favoring the impeachment of presidents) – has now posted “Impeachment Should Be on the Table If Trump Bombs Iran – Without Congress’s approval, he has no legal authority to start a war, no matter what John Bolton seems to think.”

As you well know, Mr. Healy, AIPAC and the rest of the Israel Lobby would approve of the very course of action that you think should be the basis for impeachment.

Given that AIPAC would approve of the US bombing of Iran, Congress would also approve of the bombing.

Given that AIPAC would approve of the bombing, not only would Trump not get impeached over the bombing, but we would witness Congressmen and Senators give near-unanimous approval for the bombing.

#31 Comment By Junior On May 22, 2019 @ 5:16 pm

This is the same author, Gene Healy, who has spent the last two decades pushing for ANY President to be impeached.

You might ask yourself why someone would call for a measure so drastic as to try to overturn the will of the American People. Well, according to Mr. Healy’s previous writings, “What’s really obscene is America’s record on presidential impeachments. We’ve made only three serious attempts in our entire constitutional history.”

He doesn’t like the fact that it has only happened twice. It’s obscene to him. Healy wants to overturn the will of the American people because he doesn’t like the ratio. That’s right… impeachment because ratio.

Will of the voters be damned. The act of impeaching is more important than having cause to do so for Mr. Healy.

If somehow even after reading this article in which Mr. Healy calls for Trump to be impeached over speculation and conjecture, anyone STILL doubts that cause means nothing to him then one need look no further than Healy’s writings the past two years calling for Trump to be impeached because Trump tweets things that Healy doesn’t like. That’s right… impeachment because tweets.

Sounds legit.

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad to see someone so deep in the throes of grasping at conjectural straws trying to fulfill his bizarre obsession of increasing the ratio of impeachments.

This article is what happens when Trump Derangement Syndrome meets Impeachment Derangement Syndrome.

#32 Comment By David Walters On May 22, 2019 @ 5:58 pm

I completely agree.

If he engages in another regime change war sponsored by Israel and Kushner that he campaigned against then he’s no better than Hillary…and perhaps worse.

#33 Comment By Archrevenant On May 22, 2019 @ 7:53 pm

This is the battle for the soul of American Conservatism. Our job is to start a fight with the Breitbart-warmonger right that is so viscous that the subsequent divide can never be healed. We see where fellow traveling with these pigs has gotten us. Trump has betrayed us at every turn. When he bombs Iran it is time for scorched earth.

#34 Comment By Wilmer Atkinson On May 22, 2019 @ 8:22 pm

Every President for the last 70+ years has gone to war without congressional authorization. What’s special about this one?

#35 Comment By WorkingClass On May 22, 2019 @ 9:41 pm

Impeach Trump for illegal war making? I’m surprised Nadler didn’t think of it. Of course you would have to impeach Pence ten minuets later. Illegal war making is what American presidents do. It’s who we are. Candidate Trump was against all that. The moment he became president – presto! – He became a war monger.

#36 Comment By Fayez Abedaziz On May 22, 2019 @ 9:43 pm

Trump the bum should be in court for the murder of thousand in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Afghanistan and more.
He is a war criminal along with Obama the coward, Hillary the crook and the freaks that advise idiot Trump.
When these creeps die, they will join Bush, McCain in hell.
There ya go! That’s what I say.

#37 Comment By Bullwinkle J. Moose On May 22, 2019 @ 11:11 pm

The war powers section of the Constitution was great in the day of the sailing ship and carrier pigeon, but no longer apply in the contemporary world. As long as the major news outlets, lead by Fox, support the bombing and even the 120,000 troops, politicians will fall into line to appear patriotic.

During the Vietnam War era, we heard the saying “We had to destroy the village to save it”. If Trump has to destroy America’s role in the world to MAGA, then that is what we elected him to do. Like declaring bankruptcy or getting divorced, he will always rebound and will take America to new heights with him.

#38 Comment By georgina davenport On May 22, 2019 @ 11:39 pm

With a president like Trump and a Republican Congress today, what does it matter what the law say? What would the military do when Trump gives the order without Congressional approval? Would the generals refuse? Is that considered as disobeying an order?

#39 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On May 23, 2019 @ 9:54 am

I should have mentioned in my earlier comment that on the other hand if the Congress behaves in the manner of sheep (as pointed out by other contributors) then the issue is moot. And thus far not a peep from either the Democrats (who appear to be more concerned about Trump’s tax returns dating back twenty years ago than with the immanent threat of war in the MidEast) or Trump’s party.

#40 Comment By cdugga On May 23, 2019 @ 3:11 pm

Maybe pelosi wants to avoid war by not impeaching the don. Next in line is an avowed christian zionist. Like, impeaching the don might be the road to hell paved with good intention.

#41 Comment By the Rebbe On May 26, 2019 @ 1:08 pm

Pssst. Congress will not stop the Don because it’s been circumcised from the neck up.

#42 Comment By PAX On May 27, 2019 @ 6:35 pm

We need Bibi Netanyahu to again visit Congress (who acted like teenagers at a rock concert) to convince them as to their real disloyalties. Remember the USS Liberty. We do not raise our children to be cannon fodder for a theocracy that does not give a hoot for our well being. When will this sink in?