As we head toward James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, I thought it would be useful to remind readers about a recent Just Security essay by Philip Bobbitt entitled, “The Impeachment Clause and Two Types of ‘Bribery.’” Bobbitt made two moves. First, he highlighted an oft-missed fact that the Constitution’s impeachment clause specifies “bribery” as an offense that makes a President eligible for impeachment. Second, he explained that while recent commentaries have focused on whether Donald Trump is on the receiving end of bribes, the other type of bribery might apply to the President: whether the President attempted to bribe a US official. In this case, Bobbitt writes, “offering an inducement to act—offering, for example, to reappoint Comey or suggesting that his future appointment might hinge on his shutting down an investigation of the president–comes perilously close to offering Comey a bribe.” Bobbitt delves into other reported details of the interactions between the President and Comey that raise this question.
In short, as our nation turns to Comey’s testimony on Thursday, it is worth thinking not only about the serious allegations of obstruction of justice, but also the law on bribery. In that respect, it is also worth contemplating not only bribery in the constitutional sense, but also bribery as a federal offence (18 U.S.C. § 201 and 18 U.S.C. § 1510).