Could Trump be impeached for sexual harassment?

Several women again went public this week with allegations that Donald Trump had harassed them before he became president.

Could Trump, who called the claims "false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met," be removed from office because of the allegations?

A number of high-profile figures in politics, the media and show business have lost their jobs recently as a result of allegations of sexual misconduct. Most of those working in the news and entertainment business have employment contracts with clauses that allow for their termination for cause or for bad conduct. Plus, discrimination law punishes those employers who do not act quickly to separate an alleged harasser from other employees. This incentivizes prompt remedial action by employers, such as suspension or termination of alleged harassers.

See his accusers here:

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Women who've accused Trump of sexual assault and harassment
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Women who've accused Trump of sexual assault and harassment
Rachel Crooks, a former receptionist in Trump Tower in 2005, attends a news conference for the film "16 Women and Donald Trump" which focuses on women who have publicly accused President Trump of sexual misconduct, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
(L-R) Rachel Crooks, a former receptionist in Trump Tower in 2005, Jessica Leeds and Samantha Holvey, a former Miss North Carolina, exit a news conference for the film "16 Women and Donald Trump" which focuses on women who have publicly accused President Trump of sexual misconduct, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jessica Leeds attends a news conference for the film "16 Women and Donald Trump" which focuses on women who have publicly accused President Trump of sexual misconduct, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 18 - Journalist Natasha Stoynoff poses at the Simon & Schuster offices in downtown Toronto, January 18, 2017. Stoynoff, who spoke out during the election campaign about being sexually attacked by Donald Trump when she was a writer at People magazine. (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 21: Jessica Drake and Temple Taggart during the Accusers of President Donald Trump Hold Press Conference With Attorney Gloria Allred At The Women's March In Washington on January 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
Samantha Holvey, a former Miss North Carolina, speaks at a news conference for the film "16 Women and Donald Trump" which focuses on women who have publicly accused President Trump of sexual misconduct, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, leaves New York State Supreme Court with attorney Gloria Allred (R) after a hearing on the defamation case against U.S. President Donald Trump in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, appears in New York State Supreme Court during a hearing on a defamation case against U.S. President Donald Trump in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Barry Williams/Pool
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, leaves New York State Supreme Court with attorney Gloria Allred (L) after a hearing on the defamation case against U.S. President Donald Trump in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
(L-R) Rachel Crooks, a former receptionist in Trump Tower in 2005, Jessica Leeds, Samantha Holvey, a former Miss North Carolina and Brave New Films founder Robert Greenwald, attend a news conferences for the film "16 Women and Donald Trump" which focuses on women who have publicly accused President Trump of sexual misconduct, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
(L-R) Rachel Crooks, a former receptionist in Trump Tower in 2005, Jessica Leeds and Samantha Holvey, a former Miss North Carolina, attend a news conference for the film "16 Women and Donald Trump" which focuses on women who have publicly accused President Trump of sexual misconduct, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., December 11, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 26: Temple Taggart and Gloria Allred arrive to a press conference at Little America Hotel on October 28, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chad Hurst/Getty Images)
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But the president is different.

His contract of employment is the Constitution. And it has a version of a "for cause" termination clause, similar to those in employment contracts. It's called impeachment. Reasonable minds can and do differ on what constitutes impeachable conduct. It is generally accepted among academics that conduct does not have to be criminal to be impeachable.

A more surprising concept is the reverse: Not all crimes are impeachable. Another historically (though not normatively) correct statement about impeachable offenses is that they are whatever the House and Senate say they are. If proven or provable, could sexual assault as a crime be impeachable as a "high crime or misdemeanor"?

It seems as though the correct answer should be yes. But it might not be so. The Framers discussed limiting impeachment to only treason and bribery, and later added the oft-debated catch-all phrase, including "high crimes and misdemeanors" — but the "high" in "high crimes" did not mean "serious," it meant "official."

Impeachment was considered by some Framers as restricted to political crimes and political punishments. It's therefore possible that a "personal" crime, one that does not involve any official action, might not be an impeachable offense.

However, there's a compelling argument that rape and sexual assault are so evil they should be impeachable even if the conduct occurred before the presidency, and regardless of whether they were prosecuted.

Still, Andrew Jackson killed a man in a duel before he was elected president. Though he was attacked as a candidate for dueling, he was never prosecuted and never impeached — though it was widely known he was a killer before he was elected. That's certainly a different situation than conduct that is discovered after a president is elected. May of these sexual allegations against Trump were known before Election Day.

What about just plain sleazy conduct? That's probably not impeachable. No federal official has ever been impeached for purely sexual misconduct alone.

Even President Bill Clinton's impeachment was based upon perjury and obstruction of justice, and not sex. The next open question is whether the president can even be impeached for conduct that occurred before he took office.

In 2010, the Senate convicted federal judge Thomas Porteous of, among other things, corruptly accepting gifts from a bail bondsman when he was a state judge, despite his attorney's argument that Porteous couldn’t be convicted for conduct prior to being appointed to the federal bench. Porteous’s conduct did occur when he was a state public official, and not just a private citizen, however.

No president has ever been impeached based solely on conduct occurring before office. It's natural to assume that serious allegations of prior criminal or sexual conduct revealed only after a president is elected should warrant impeachment proceedings. But this is not necessarily true; it may not be true even for serious crimes or felonies.

Then again, technical definitions of impeachment may not matter if, as history shows, impeachable conduct is whatever Congress says it is.

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