Bad Timing and Postmortem Impeachment

by Alexander Tan ’21

In this image from video, lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) is on the Senate floor reading the article of impeachment that alleges incitement of insurrection against former President Donald Trump, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. (Senate Television via AP)

Published Feb. 16th, 2021

On January 13, 2021, Donald Trump became the very first president in US history to be impeached twice.

A single article of impeachment was drafted in the House with “Incitement of insurrection” as the main justification, arguing that the former president instigated the January 6th Capitol riot. It states that President Trump “threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government [Congress],” “thus warrant[ing] impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification…”

His first impeachment occurred a little over a year ago on December 18, 2019 over “Abuse of Power” and “Obstruction of Congress” in the wake of the Ukraine Scandal, as stated in the articles of impeachment. Following a report from whistleblower Alexander Vindman, he was formally accused of soliciting foreign interference from Ukraine in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by withholding military aid to force an investigation into then-candidate Joe Biden. Ultimately, Trump was acquitted.

The new article of impeachment passed with 232 favorable votes from House Democrats and support from 10 House Republicans, the most members of a president’s own party to vote for impeachment in U.S. history. Several Republicans have condemned Trump, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who declared Trump is “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol riots.

Impeachment is a process outlined in the US Constitution which allows presidents and other officials to be forcibly removed from office. In turn, the Vice President assumes power for the remainder of the term. It is a severe measure and only applicable for “Impeachable Offenses” outlined in federal law. According to Article Two, Section Four of the United States Constitution, “The President… shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”; other examples include perjury and insurrection.

While Trump has been formally impeached, the term “impeachment” only refers to being indicted of an impeachable offense in office by the House of Representatives. When the House indicts with a charge, the official is put on trial in the Senate, where they will actually decide whether to remove the president from office with a two-thirds supermajority requirement to convict.

Though the article was only passed a week before Trump left office, ex-post-facto conviction (which is also a first for U.S. political history) can cost a former president privileges like pension and, most prominently, their right to run for a second term. This situation sparked doubts over whether it was even constitutional to impeach a former official.

After some initial legislative business with the new administration, the Senate recently moved onto the impeachment affair. Seven Republicans and all Democrats voted to convict this past week, forming a majority of 57 against 43. Despite the historically bipartisan reaction towards this impeachment, the Senate did not meet the two-thirds supermajority needed to convict Trump on February 13, expunging the threat of retrospective prosecution. 

Still, questions about the origins of the Capitol Hill incident and how trespassers evaded law enforcement remain unresolved. Senators from both parties agreed that false information was spread by Trump over the recent election, and are seeking to investigate more details about the riots. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) demanded “a 9/11 commission to find out what happened and make sure it never happens again.” 

Though impeachment may now be out of the question, Trump’s legal issues persist as the former President now faces an investigation regarding his attempts to overturn the Georgia election results. 

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