WASHINGTON ― Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-Texas) suggested Wednesday that Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas should be impeached because slavery exists in the world and fentanyl is killing people ― a claim that law professor Frank Bowman, a witness in this House hearing, had to keep informing the congressman made no sense.
Both were participants in a House Homeland Security Committee hearing focused on impeaching Mayorkas. The hearing, which went on for nearly five hours, was a political stunt: Republicans are eager to make the migration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border a major liability for President Joe Biden in the 2024 elections. Mayorkas is their latest target.
The problem with the GOP’s impeachment effort is that Mayorkas, a cabinet secretary charged with carrying out immigration laws, as broken as they may be, has not been accused of any crimes. Never mind the kinds of serious “high crimes and misdemeanors” that meet the constitutional threshold for impeachment, like treason or bribery.
Nonetheless, the GOP’s rationale is that because Mayorkas is overseeing Biden’s border policies, he is responsible for the egregious crimes that people commit at the border and elsewhere, so he should be impeached.
Luttrell leaned hard into that rationale on Wednesday, trying to pin blame on the homeland security secretary for crimes carried out by others.
“Can you give me the definition of a ‘high crime and misdemeanor?’” the Texas Republican asked Bowman, who is a professor emeritus of law at the University of Missouri School of Law, and a former federal prosecutor.
Bowman said there’s no single definition that will satisfy everyone, but that the late constitutional scholar, Charles Black, would define it as “extremely serious offenses in the way that serious crimes like treason and bribery are.”
Bowman was still talking when Luttrell cut him off.
“Extremely serious,” repeated the Republican congressman. “That’s a great point. Is the selling of fentanyl inside the United States causing hundreds of thousands of deaths over the past years considered a high crime, in your opinion?”
“I’m unaware that the secretary has sold any fentanyl,” Bowman said flatly.
“No, I’m not directing that to the secretary, I’m asking you,” said Luttrell. “If the selling of fentanyl inside the United States, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans over the years, would that be considered a high crime?”
“If you could establish that an officer actually did that, possibly,” Bowman began, as Luttrell talked over him. “But we have no evidence that that ever happened.”
“There’s no evidence that hundreds of thousands of people over the past few years have died from fentanyl overdoses?” the Texas Republican asked.
“I’m unaware of any evidence that Secretary Mayorkas has ever sold fentanyl,” said Bowman.
By now, the two were openly clashing and raising their voices. Luttrell kept pointing out that fentanyl is killing people ― and Bowman kept reminding him that this has nothing to do with crimes being committed by the homeland security secretary that warrant impeachment.
“I’m not talking about Secretary Mayorkas,” said Luttrell, flustered. “I’m talking about fentanyl!”
“But that’s what we’re here to talk about!” replied Bowman. “Are we not, congressman? Secretary Mayorkas?”
The Texas congressman isn’t wrong that America is facing a fentanyl crisis. More than 150 people die every day in the United States from overdoses on opioids like fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And Mexico, along with China, is a primary source for fentanyl being trafficked into the country.
But fentanyl is overwhelmingly smuggled into the United States by U.S. citizens, not by people illegally crossing the border, as the Cato Institute reported in 2022. Moreover, Mayorkas is not personally committing these crimes, so there is no legal basis for impeaching him.
Luttrell eventually moved on from trying to blame Mayorkas for fentanyl deaths in America, and tried to blame him for other crimes.
“Let me ask you this, since we’re unhinged on fentanyl,” asked the Republican lawmaker, visibly agitated. “Do you consider slavery a high crime?”
Cross-border human trafficking is also a serious problem, and as Luttrell cited, there are tens of millions of people around the world are who are trapped in a form of modern slavery. But again, Mayorkas is not committing these crimes, so the idea that he should be impeached for them makes no sense.
The law professor, speaking slowly and eventually closing his eyes as he spoke, said only, “Is there any evidence that Secretary Mayorkas has enslaved anyone?”
That signaled the end of Luttrell’s questions for Bowman.
“This is getting a little bit more complicated than I thought it was going to be,” he said, moving on.
You can watch their exchange here.