The Framers rejected terms ranging from “corruption,” obtaining office by improper means, betraying one’s trust to a foreign power, “negligence,” “perfidy,” “peculation” and “oppression.” All these were rejected along with “maladministration” and kept off the Constitution’s list of impeachable offenses.
Notably, perfidy means dishonesty and peculation means self-dealing—two common allegations in today’s Trump hearings. The Framers dropped these terms, however, as too broad and undefined. Indeed, in arguing against the inclusion of maladministration, Madison remarked that “so vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during the pleasure of the Senate,” an outcome repugnant to him. Mason then substituted “high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” which was approved.
Since then, politicians have often sought to adopt expansive interpretations to make impeachment easier. When I served as lead defense counsel in the Senate impeachment trial of federal Judge Thomas Porteous, the lead House manager sought to convict my client on the novel theory that even conduct before taking office could be impeachable. That impeachment manager was Adam Schiff.