By Republicans’ logic, a president is free to commit insurrection so long as it’s at the end of his term.
As the Senate trial of Donald Trump nears, the defense is coming into view. It appears that most Senate Republicans will not defend Mr. Trump’s conduct around the Jan. 6 Capitol siege. Instead, they will rally around an argument about the chamber’s constitutional powers and the supposedly dangerous consequences for our politics if the Senate tries a “late impeachment.”
This argument is built on two closely connected representations, and Senator Rand Paul previewed them in his recent constitutional objection to “late impeachment.”
The first, in Mr. Paul’s words, is that “impeachment is a tool to remove someone from office. That’s it.” The Senate lacks the power to try an impeached president, once out of office, to determine if he is guilty of the charges the House has levied against him.
The second, Mr. Paul and others argued, is that Mr. Trump is now a “private citizen,” and so any action against him could serve no purpose other than revenge.
So less than a month after the events of Jan. 6, the impeachment process might be foundering on the remarkable claim — one that some senators seem to have adopted disingenuously so that they can avoid a defense of Mr. Trump’s action and pose instead as guardians of the Constitution. It is the claim that a president can escape the consequences of egregious, impeachable conduct, and in particular disqualification from future office, so long as the Senate runs out of time to try the case before the end of his term.
This Republican argument wholly misconstrues the text, history and structure of the Constitution’s impeachment clause. It is a mistake to minimize impeachment’s broader objectives by suggesting that removal from office was somehow its only or primary function.
The power to impeach specifically provides for two decisions: impeachment and conviction, resulting in removal, and then disqualification from holding office. As drawn from the English practice, and reflected in state constitutions at the time, both these actions were understood to serve the overall purpose of public accountability for egregious abuses of public office.
Indeed, several state constitutions at the time of the federal Constitution’s writing permitted impeachment only after public figures had left office. Public accountability and disqualification were the purposes of impeachment; the Constitution’s addition of removal from office was an expansion on these provisions.
The argument focused on Mr. Trump’s status as a former president is misguided and dangerous. When impeached, he was in office. Moreover, it is highly doubtful that the framers intended the impeachment clause to give the president free rein to commit impeachable offenses in the closing months of his term.
In any case, the Senate always decides on disqualification after the offender is a “private citizen,” since that is what he becomes upon conviction of an impeachable offense. The Constitution does not even specify that this second vote on disqualfication must be immediate. The Senate could vote weeks later, after deliberation and debate, well into the former president’s “private” life.
Still more fundamental: This “late impeachment” argument fails to grasp the constitutional framework within which the question must be considered. The Federalist Papers made plain the framers’ preoccupation with protections against the demagogue, the “unworthy candidate” of “perverted ambition” who practices “with success the vicious arts, by which elections are too often carried.” The provision for “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit” was one of many instances of constitutional checks against popular passions that could lead to the election of officeholders who would threaten to subvert the Republic.
No basis exists for claiming that the drafters of the Constitution intended to leave presidents who have demonstrated danger to the Republic to seek the position again based on a mere happenstance of timing: that a Senate trial cannot take place after the president has been voted out of office.
Mr. Trump is being tried for conduct that the Constitution expressly singles out as a basis for disqualifying someone from office. Section 3 of the 14th Amendment disqualifies from federal or state office anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the United States or given aid and comfort to them. Mr. Trump has been impeached for taking such actions for the express purpose of promoting opposition to the transfer of power to his duly elected successor.
The House voted this impeachment with urgency, intending to have the Senate try, convict and remove Mr. Trump to disable any further maneuvers by him to retain office. This has hardly been a generalized political “witch hunt” against vague offenses.
Moreover, Congress holds a similar power in its ability to police its own ranks. Under Article 1, Section 5 both the House and Senate may expel a member by a vote of two-thirds. Neither has regularly exercised this power, but of the 15 Senate expulsions, 14 involved members who had supported the Confederacy during the Civil War. The House also expelled three members for support of the secession.
Enough Republican senators may adopt this argument against “late impeachment” to block conviction and the ensuing vote on disqualification. But the moment should not pass without calling out in clear terms the damaging constitutional precedent that this outcome will produce.
The Republican senators are effectively seeking to establish a “loophole” in the critical constitutional mechanism for holding presidents accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors — in this case, a trial and decision on disqualification of a former president who, while in office and as set forth in the article of impeachment, “gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of government, threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of government.”
With articles of impeachment delivered and the trial set to start, Republicans in the upper chamber can no longer hedge by claiming ignorance of the facts.
President Donald J. Trump was impeached on Thursday.
I know that he was technically impeached when the House voted to do so in December. But the truth is, as a political and historical matter, Thursday was the day. House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s strategy — brilliant to fans, incomprehensible to foes — of sitting on the articles of impeachment left a lot of people wondering whether this show was ever going to get on the road.
Now, with the chief justice of the United States sworn in to preside over the Senate trial, and senators sworn in as jurors, there’s no mistaking that it’s about to go down. The clearest sign that the Senate is taking this at least somewhat seriously: Senators are handing over their cellphones before they enter the chamber. That’s not good news for the president.
Oh, it’s still unlikely there will be enough votes to remove Trump from office. But having talked with many GOP senators since the Ukraine story broke, I can tell you that few have paid close attention to the facts of the case. Some weren’t engaged because they wanted — or said they wanted — to avoid reaching conclusions since they would have to be impartial jurors. Others seemed to think, understandably, that the Ukraine drama was simply the latest chapter in the long-running story of the media and Democrats rushing to “get” Trump no matter what. Others appeared eager to stay in their lanes, avoid the cable-news shout shows, and get on with the jobs they were sent to Washington to do.
Whatever the reasons, I’ve been shocked at how so many senators didn’t know — or claimed not to know — many of the central facts from the House hearings and news reports.
Now, they all have to sit in a room like good boys and girls and stay absolutely quiet as the House impeachment managers make their case. They can’t play Candy Crush or check out the latest sports scores on their phones. The rules say that if they even talk among themselves, they can be imprisoned.
Some senators have said they want to be protected from learning relevant new facts, claiming that because the impeachment process in the House was flawed and rushed — which is true — the Senate shouldn’t be obligated to do the heavy lifting of evidence-gathering. Though few have been as adamantly opposed to hearing new evidence as Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.).
On Wednesday, Senator Susan Collins (R., Maine) ignited a furor when she asked why new evidence provided by Lev Parnas — a Ukrainian grifter who’d been working closely with Trump’s personal fixer, Rudy Giuliani — wasn’t in the report sent by the House. When a journalist pointed out that the evidence had just surfaced, Collins replied, “Well, doesn’t that suggest that the House did an incomplete job then?”
Maybe this was a sign she wasn’t paying attention or an indication she doesn’t want to hear new evidence. If it’s the latter, she has a point. If representatives had taken time to do all of their due diligence, they likely would have uncovered more evidence, whether from Parnas or other potential witnesses.
But, looked at from a broader perspective, so what? Republicans screamed “show trial” during the House hearings. It was an overheated and indefensible claim. But if you’re on record saying you’re opposed to show trials — i.e., proceedings in which relevant evidence is ignored in pursuit of a foreordained conclusion — then saying you don’t want all of the facts is terribly hypocritical.
People are going to watch the hearings. They’re going to see miserable senators presented with ample evidence that the president used his office to pressure the Ukrainians to sully a political opponent. If the only times Republican senators make a fuss are when they maneuver to avoid hearing even more damning evidence, or demand that the Senate participate in the president’s strategy of making Joe Biden the issue, they won’t merely be violating their oaths to deliver impartial justice; they will risk going down in history — and appearing to voters — as participants in a cover-up.
Some senators will be fine with that, because that’s what a majority of their voters want. For those who either come from states that don’t have enough Trump-base voters to get reelected or are burdened with a politically inconvenient concern about their reputations, it will be a real problem. The one thing none of them will be able to claim, however, is that they don’t know the facts because they weren’t paying attention.
It’s time to say what we said 20 years ago when a president’s character was revealed for what it was.
In our founding documents, Billy Graham explains that Christianity Today will help evangelical Christians interpret the news in a manner that reflects their faith. The impeachment of Donald Trump is a significant event in the story of our republic. It requires comment.
The typical CT approach is to stay above the fray and allow Christians with different political convictions to make their arguments in the public square, to encourage all to pursue justice according to their convictions and treat their political opposition as charitably as possible. We want CT to be a place that welcomes Christians from across the political spectrum, and reminds everyone that politics is not the end and purpose of our being. We take pride in the fact, for instance, that politics does not dominate our homepage.
That said, we do feel it necessary from time to time to make our own opinions on political matters clear—always, as Graham encouraged us, doing so with both conviction and love. We love and pray for our president, as we love and pray for leaders (as well as ordinary citizens) on both sides of the political aisle.
Let’s grant this to the president: The Democrats have had it out for him from day one, and therefore nearly everything they do is under a cloud of partisan suspicion. This has led many to suspect not only motives but facts in these recent impeachment hearings. And, no, Mr. Trump did not have a serious opportunity to offer his side of the story in the House hearings on impeachment.
But the facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.
The reason many are not shocked about this is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.
Trump’s evangelical supporters have pointed to his Supreme Court nominees, his defense of religious liberty, and his stewardship of the economy, among other things, as achievements that justify their support of the president. We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath. The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This
- damages the institution of the presidency,
- damages the reputation of our country, and
- damages both the spirit and the future of our people. None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.
This concern for the character of our national leader is not new in CT. In 1998, we wrote this:
The President’s failure to tell the truth—even when cornered—rips at the fabric of the nation. This is not a private affair. For above all, social intercourse is built on a presumption of trust: trust that the milk your grocer sells you is wholesome and pure; trust that the money you put in your bank can be taken out of the bank; trust that your babysitter, firefighters, clergy, and ambulance drivers will all do their best. And while politicians are notorious for breaking campaign promises, while in office they have a fundamental obligation to uphold our trust in them and to live by the law.
Unsavory dealings and immoral acts by the President and those close to him have rendered this administration morally unable to lead.
Unfortunately, the words that we applied to Mr. Clinton 20 years ago apply almost perfectly to our current president. Whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election—that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.
To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?
We have reserved judgment on Mr. Trump for years now. Some have criticized us for our reserve. But when it comes to condemning the behavior of another, patient charity must come first. So we have done our best to give evangelical Trump supporters their due, to try to understand their point of view, to see the prudential nature of so many political decisions they have made regarding Mr. Trump. To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.
A new tell-all book called ‘A Warning,’ written by an anonymous Senior White House Official, was released today. The saddest part about the book and these impeachment proceedings, is that Trump’s hardcore supporters don’t want to know what he has done wrong. They will support him no matter what. So to prove it, we went out on the street, found people who are fans of Donald Trump, and we asked them how they felt about a bunch of stuff Trump has done. Except none of it was stuff Trump has done, all of the events we described were about Watergate and Richard Nixon.