Principles Regarding the Possible Impeachment of an American President
SPECIAL NOTE: It is rare that the WRF posts blogs about subjects on which there is strong disagreement among our members. On occasion, we do post such blogs.
For example, on December 16, 2017, we did post – right on this website – a blog dealing with the decision of the U.S. government to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But we tried to make sure that the issue was dealt with fairly – in that case, we sought to accomplish this by having two different perspectives presented, that of an Israeli WRF member and that of a Palestinian WRF member. That blog may be seen here An Israeli Evangelical Christian and a Palestinian Evangelical Christian Respond to the Decision to Recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel. We posted that blog because we believed that we best served our members - and the global church – by showing that the Bible and Reformed theological principles are directly relevant to the most controversial and difficult issues Christians face.
It is in this spirit that we now post both this blog about the possible impeachment of an American President and another blog about Brexit [Thoughts on the Present Constitutional Crisis in the United Kingdom].
These blogs were written by WRF members who have special perspectives on the matters being discussed and the blogs themselves have been carefully reviewed by numerous members of the WRF leadership. We believe that the blogs do not “take sides” but instead provide biblical principles which we believe are relevant to the matters being discussed.
In this blog, we urge our readers to pay special attention to the four specific questions the author proposes as we look at the current impeachment discussion. Those questions, taken together with the total witness of Scripture, may be of help to our members who must deal with these kinds of issues, no matter which side of the present impeachment discussion they take.
Some Thoughts About the Possibility of the Impeachment of An American President (by WRF Member Leah Farish, JD)
As an attorney I worked on the Paula Jones case, which resulted in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
In 1994, Paula Jones filed a claim saying that Pres. Bill Clinton had sexually harassed her while she worked for the State of Arkansas where he was governor, against which he defended mainly by saying she couldn’t sue him while he was president for something he had done before taking presidential office. In giving his sworn deposition about Paula Jones, Mr. Clinton was asked about the more recent relationship he had had with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. He lied about that relationship.
The Rutherford Institute eventually represented her, and like most Christians of that time, I was initially offended that the Christian head of the Rutherford Institute, John Whitehead, would take the case. I felt it was unseemly and disrespectful to assail the office of any president with the tawdry accusations Jones was making.
Because I was an area representative for Rutherford at the time, I talked to headquarters about this. They reminded me that the Rutherford Institute was named after a Scottish preacher, Samuel Rutherford, who was a member of the Westminster Assembly and who in 1644 published Lex, Rex (The Law and the King), arguing that even the king was not above the law and God. I became more and more convinced that this egalitarian accountability was the issue in the Paula Jones case. I began to assist them in their efforts. (The President later admitted he had lied under oath about sexual harassment of Monica Lewinsky. He had also arranged to have his Oval Office secretary hide evidence of the harassment in her home. He was suspended from practicing law in Arkansas, impeached but not removed from office, and he paid $850,000 to settle the Jones case.)
As the press coverage grew, support from the Institute’s conservative Christian (mostly Republican) donors shrank. Far from being a vendetta of such folks against a Democrat president, the case by the Rutherford Institute alienated its supporters, who like me had no personal animus against the President and had scruples about disrespecting his office.
But we attorneys felt vindicated when the U.S. Supreme Court quoted the District Court in saying that “even the sovereign is subject to God and the law.” https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/95-1853.ZO.html And we were gratified when Rep. Henry Hyde argued in closing the impeachment hearings thus:
Now the rule of law is one of the great achievements of our civilization, for the alternative is the rule of raw power. We here today are the heirs of 3,000 years of history in which humanity slowly, painfully, at great cost evolved a form of politics in which law, not brute force, is the arbiter of our public destinies.
We are the heirs of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law, a moral code for a free people….
We cannot have one law for the ruler and another law for the ruled.
Unlike the disgusted Americans who turned away from the often ugly proceedings, I looked at the evidence and the legal principles involved. Some of the things I considered are worth keeping in mind as we look at the current impeachment fracas.
First, is the evidence credible and clear? I found the women who were accusing Clinton to be very credible. They were literally shaking in their boots at confronting such a powerful man, but they spoke with such specificity and candor that they convinced me. The evidence preceded our involvement—we didn’t go on a fishing expedition for it.
Second, are the actions alleged really serious enough to be considered “high crimes and misdemeanors?” In the context of the 1990’s when Democrats in particular were sensitizing us all about what sexual harassment was, Sen. Robert Packwood (R Oregon) had just resigned in disgrace for indiscretions of the type Clinton was accused of. Today, mostly because Clinton brazened it out, Americans don’t view extramarital dalliances by our politicians so seriously. But abuse of his power as governor vis-à-vis Paula Jones, having an affair with his young White House intern, and lying about all of it were all acts that made him unfit for office in the eyes of those trying to impeach him.
I recall the words of Representative Hyde, resisting a proposal that the House merely censure the President: "A resolution of censure, to mean anything, must punish if only to tarnish his reputation. But we have no authority under the Constitution to punish the president. It's called separation of powers." http://guweb2.gonzaga.edu/~dewolf/hyde-imp.htm
Third, are the procedures Constitutional, fair, and transparent? I saw them up close in the Paula Jones case. Special counsel Ken Starr, a committed Christian, was methodical and extremely forthcoming in presenting everything he found to the public. Chief Justice Rehnquist, the conservative jurist who presided in a very restrained way over the Senate impeachment hearing, summarized his historic place in the proceedings thus: “I did nothing in particular, and I did it very well.”
Fourth, are those behind the impeachment effort motivated by partisan motives? By personal vitriol? During the whole of the litigation and impeachment process, I never heard anyone who had responsibility in the work express the slightest disrespect for President Clinton. There was no profanity, no nasty nicknames for the opposition, no jockeying for position. After the last hearing in the case in the Eighth Circuit, I was standing inside the courthouse beside the young man who had argued against the President (successfully). We were politely waiting for the other side to finish talking to the press before going outside so that we wouldn’t create a distraction.
I asked the lawyer what he was going to do after this momentous day, and he said something like, “I’m going to go home to my wife because I’ve been working night and day for two weeks.” After a moment, he said, “I’m just gonna head out the side door.” And with that, he left behind the forest of satellite dishes and throngs of TV anchors.
I encourage anyone observing today’s impeachment efforts to prayerfully apply these criteria in deciding where one’s sympathies should lie.
I note that just before Romans 13, the wonderful passage on earthly government, comes Romans 12, which says in part, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you…. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good…. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I often ponder why these verses lead into Romans 13, where Caesar is acknowledged as properly bearing the sword, to reward good and defeat evil. The two chapters offer us useful guidance in examining our own hearts as well as the American political scene.
The comment below was offered by WRF member Dr. George C. Fuller Permalink Submitted by Samuel Logan on Wed, 2019-12-18 17:54
Dr. George Fuller comments:
I am reflecting on Leah Farish’s insightful comments on impeachment. I express my honor at being in the same organization (World Reformed Fellowship) as this experienced and articulate writer. But I want to add a postscript. To whatever degree her precise procedural suggestions for impeachment are not followed, several outcomes will be intensified. First, division of major proportions, both in the government and in the public, even among friends and in families, will become a growing open wound. Secondly, expenses will escalate, not simply in cash costs incurred but in the incredible amounts of time and energy committed to the effort by people who have other things that ought to be done. And consider the time and energy consumed by a public who hear about and read about details regarding sub-issues they regard as important to confirm which side of the “divide” is comfortable for each of them. Thirdly, the law of unintended consequences is almost inviolable. That being the case, we’ll watch to see what the outcomes may be in the next weeks and, indeed, for future presidencies. Down the road, we may want to consider Leah Parish’s rules for impeachment evaluated against outcomes.