Democrats Argue Impeachment of Former President is Constitutional

U.S. Senate

Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who objected to the certification of 2017 election results, and promised to impeach President Donald Trump as soon as he took office, argued Tuesday that is is constitutional to impeach a former president.

Raskin told the Senators assembled for the trial that if they did not hold a trial, they would be creating a “January exception,” allowing presidents to commit misconduct before leaving office. (He did not note that presidents are still subject to ordinary criminal law, including for crimes committed during their presidencies, after leaving office.)

In addition, Raskin argued, the House had impeached Trump before he left office, suggesting that meant the process was legitimate for that reason. He also cited examples of states that intended impeachment to apply to former officials. And he argued that the Founders believed that challenges to elections were particularly grave abuses of power by leaders.

Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO) then argued that the Senate agreed to hold an impeachment trial of former Senator William Blount, who was accused of corruption. The Senate expelled him, then held an impeachment trial that was later halted.

As the Senate’s own website notes (emphasis added):

Despite Blount’s absence, his impeachment trial began in the Senate on December 17, 1798, and quickly focused on the Senate’s right to try an expelled senator. In a narrow vote, the Senate defeated a resolution that asserted William Blount was an impeachable officer. In this vote, the Senate failed to make clear whether its decision stemmed from a belief that no senator could be impeached or from the belief that someone who ceased to hold a “civil office” also ceased to be impeachable.

Neguse then moved on to the case of former Secretary of War William W. Belknap, who was tried even after he was impeached, because he had resigned in the interim. However, as constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley has noted, many Senators doubted whether they had jurisdiction to try an official who was no longer in office: Turley observed: “Almost half of the Senate voted on a threshold challenge to reject the very basis of the trial. He was ultimately acquitted.”

Neguse then cited Turley as if he believed that presidents could, in fact, be tried after leaving office. Turley refuted that argument in real time.

Later, Neguse tried to anticipate the arguments of Trump’s lawyers, arguing that they had misread the Constitution to preclude a president from being barred from future office if he resigned before trial.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) argued that Congress had the power to impeach and try former presidents but had decided not to do so in the past because it was “unwise.” Because Trump was a continual danger, he said, the Senate had to try him.

He argued that “it does not matter” that Chief Justice John Roberts was not presiding over the current impeachment trial.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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