Why George Washington is a "model" in the impeachment constitutional clash

Constitutional clash in impeachment hearings
Constitutional clash in impeachment hearings 03:46

After two months of investigations and testimony, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling for the House Judiciary Committee to draft articles of impeachment, moving quickly to put the president of the United States on trial. As CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes reported, Pelosi's announcement on Thursday sets up the distinct possibility that a vote to impeach will take place by the end of the month.

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing on the constitutional grounds for impeaching a president. Three law professors called by Democrats said the evidence against President Trump is strong enough to justify impeachment. They said the president's request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden would have been impeachable even if he hadn't upped the pressure by withholding nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine. But a fourth constitutional law expert invited by Republicans disagreed.

"60 Minutes" correspondent John Dickerson offered context as to why the Constitution is "at the absolute center of the presidency." 

"What's the question at stake here? Did the president use his powers of office for himself and not his country? When they created the Constitution, they sat George Washington at the front of the room as a model for building the presidency. Why? Because twice in his career he'd given up power and not done the thing for himself but protected the republic. And they said that's what we want in a president," Dickerson said Thursday on "CBS This Morning." "He both did it when he gave up his commission as commander of the Continental Army and also when his soldiers tried to stage a coup against the government. Washington heard about the coup and said, 'How dare you, don't you do that, you must protect the republic.' That was the model for the office."

Dickerson said one weakness in Mr. Trump's case is that while the president himself denies wrongdoing – and in fact insists his call with Ukraine's president was "perfect" –  his supporters aren't doing the same.

"His defenders in Congress don't start with that as their argument but complain about the process; it implicitly undermines the president's argument. If you were in a trial and you weren't even in town when the crime you're being accused of happened, you'd want your defense attorney to say, 'He wasn't even in town,'" he said.

While the impeachment fight will be partisan and messy, Dickerson advised Americans to "let it breathe."

"Let the process go forward," he said. "It's going to be messy because it was messy when… it was a Democratic president who was in the hot seat. It's now going to be messy when it's a Republican one."