Alexander Hamilton dispensed of Trump's impeachment defense in 1788
Trump’s primary argument—issued in a response to the House impeachment trial brief and summons he received this weekend—is that the impeachment is bunk because the articles fail to allege a “violation of law or crime, let alone ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ as required by the Constitution.” The president also complains that he’s been deprived of due process, relying on the standards outlined for criminal trials.
Hamilton saw this coming. The prolific lawyer illuminated Trump’s claims, albeit indirectly, in Federalist No. 65, a seminal essay in the 1788 Federalist Papers. In the essay, Hamilton made it clear that political impeachment proceedings are necessarily treated unlike crimes in court, substantively and procedurally.
The essay explains the framers’ thinking on impeachment, as their reasoning had evolved over weeks of debate at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. It shows that political and criminal prosecutions are neither inextricably intertwined nor mutually exclusive. A president can be impeached for abuse of power in office, followed by a criminal prosecution or not. What offends the Constitution isn’t identical to a statutory crime. Hamilton noted of impeachment: