Crime required for impeachment? Not so, say legal experts

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WASHINGTON — The defense in President Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial may sound very similar to the defense in the first impeachment case in American history.

Back in 1868, a lawyer for President Andrew Johnson argued that Johnson couldn’t be removed from office because Johnson hadn’t committed a crime.

Today, one of Trump’s lawyers, Alan Dershowitz, is planning to argue at Trump’s trial that impeachment requires “criminal-like conduct.”

But legal scholars dispute the idea that the Founding Fathers ever intended for impeachable offenses to require proof of a crime. Historians also are skeptical about crediting this argument with securing Johnson’s narrow acquittal.