On January 6, 2021, while Congress was counting the electoral votes for president and vice president, an angry mob of supporters of Donald Trump descended on the Capitol building. They forced their way past Capitol police (some of whom appear to have simply let them go by) and into the building.
They kicked in doors and broke windows.
They defaced busts and artwork.
They stole documents, furniture, and even a podium.
They waved guns around and threatened to kill people.
They instigated an armed standoff just feet from the door to the House chamber *while members of the House were still in the chamber*.
Several of them were overheard saying they wanted to arrest and kill Vice President Mike Pence (and photos of several of them holding zip ties and erecting a noose corroborate this).
They took photos of themselves on the daises in the House and Senate chambers and in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.
They smeared their own feces on the walls in hallways (which means that, yes, they quite literally shit on democracy).
As law enforcement began trying to clear the building, they fought back, using tear gas and weapons that injured dozens of officers and, as of this writing, killed one.
Five people in total were killed in this siege, including a Capitol police officer. The damage done to the building will take weeks to repair (and the nightmare of sweeping the building for damage to national security through stolen items and the potential implantation of listening devices could take much longer). The House and Senate were rapidly evacuated, and thankfully, none of the lawmakers or staffers appear to have been injured.
Make no mistake. This wasn’t a “protest gone awry”. This was a terrorist attack. This was a seditious coup, an attempt to overthrow the United States Congress.
And the leader of this attack was President Donald John Trump.
Trump has spent years stirring up rage in his followers with his lies and conspiracy theories. They follow him with a rabid fervor, seeing him as a victim and a martyr whenever he’s criticized. Over the last two months, he capitalized on this adulation when he raged against the election results and insisted, against all evidence and fact, that the election was “rigged” and “stolen”. This culminated in his fiery speech Wednesday morning, where he urged his supporters to march on the Capitol, where his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told them to bring “trial by combat”.
They followed his orders and attacked the Capitol. They will pay for their crimes against America, but so too must Trump, as well as the Republican leaders who spread the lies and conspiracy theories that fed these treasonous flames.
Our attention now must turn to Trump. Democrats, as well as several Republicans, have called for his removal from office, either by his resignation, by invocation of the 25th Amendment, or by Impeachment. He won’t resign (unless he strikes a Nixonian deal with Pence for a pardon, which might not actually work; more on this later), and Pence is signaling that he won’t invoke the 25th Amendment (and, as of this writing, two Cabinet Secretaries have resigned; they claim to have done so in disgust at the president’s rhetoric leading to such violence, but it’s obvious that they’re actually stepping down because they know that staying would obligate them to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office), which leaves Impeachment as the most viable option.
Articles of Impeachment have been drafted and are circulating in the House (as of this writing, over 100 members have signed on to support them), and may be introduced as soon as Monday. Some have suggested that it’s pointless to remove a president with less than two weeks remaining in their term, which is something I’d normally agree with. But Trump isn’t a normal president.
He instigated a terrorist attack against the seat of our government, against the duly elected United States Congress, and against his own Vice President.
He refused to call in the National Guard (they were only activated hours later, and on Pence’s orders), and he refused to condemn it for a full day, initially just sending tweets and a short video calling the insurrectionists “special” and saying “we love you”.
Even the video where he condemned the attack wasn’t sincere. He was reading it off the teleprompter like a middle school student reads a book report. He lied about activating the National Guard, claiming he did so “immediately” (he didn’t activate them AT ALL) and continued to protest the election results. He did commit to a peaceful transition of power, but it was clear that he was being forced to say all of this.
Trump is a clear and present danger to our country. He cannot be allowed to remain in office for one more day, let alone nearly two weeks. The fact that his followers harassed Senator Lindsey Graham at the airport this afternoon, calling him a traitor and chastising him for putting the blame for the attack on Trump and his rhetoric, proves that the danger posed by Trump and his followers won’t simply go away. A failure to impeach him and hold him accountable for his betrayal sets a terrible and dangerous precedent because it shows that presidential accountability no longer matters.
It is virtually certain, at this point, that the House will impeach Trump before the end of next week. The real question is whether the Senate will act on the impeachment before Trump’s term expires; while many Senators have called for Trump’s removal, including a few Republicans, it isn’t likely that McConnell will make any moves on this before Biden is inaugurated. Even those who are calling for Trump’s removal (myself included) recognize that the GOP will probably just try to run out the clock.
But I’m not sure the clock actually matters or applies.
Impeachment is generally seen as a means to remove a corrupt or unfit person from office, and as such, it has never been attempted on a President who has already left that office. But nothing in the Constitution specifically prohibits doing so, and there are in fact precedents to support impeaching someone after they’ve left office, either by resignation or expiration of their term.
In 1846, the House of Representatives considered impeaching Daniel Webster, a former Secretary of State, for corruption. Webster had resigned his office three years prior, but a committee was nonetheless formed to investigate the allegations against him. There was disagreement between members over whether they could impeach Webster after he’d left office, which led to the following exchange between former president John Quincy Adams (who had since become a member of the House) and Thomas Bayly of Virginia (emphasis added in a couple of spots is my own):
Adams: And here I take occasion to say that I differ with the gentleman from Virginia and I believe the other gentlemen who stated that the day of impeachment has passed by the Constitution the moment the public office expires. I hold no such doctrine. I hold myself, so long as I have breath of life in my body, amenable to impeachment by this House for everything I did during the time I held any public office.
Bayly: Is not the judgment, in the case of impeachment, removal from office?
Adams: And disqualification to hold any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States forever afterward; a punishment much greater, in my opinion, than removal from office. It clings to a man so long as he lives , and if any public officer ever put himself in a position to be tried by impeachment he would have very little of my good opinion if he did not think disqualification from holding office for life a more severe punishment than mere removal from office. I hold, therefore, that every President of the United States, every Secretary of State, every officer of the United States impeachable by the laws of the country is as liable twenty years after his office has expired as he is while he continues in office. And if such is not the case, if an officer could thus ward off the pains of impeachment, what would be the value of impeachment, or when do you suppose that discoveries would be made that would render impeachment effectual? I speak with reference to the provisions of the Constitution and to the great objects contemplated by these provisions; and I now say that if one-tenth of the charges against the person here attacked are true, impeachment, in my humble judgment, is the course that ought to be pursued by this House, and that in the process of impeachment the usual requisites of justice to every man charged with heinous crimes and misdemeanors should be complied with; that the accused should have notice of the impeachment; that he should have notice of the evidence to be made against him that he may have the means of defense before the bar of this House, and that he may not be reached by side blows by applications for what may be dragged up out of the Department of State when he was in the office to injure him in the public mind probably for services of the first importance to the country.
The House ultimately declined to impeach Webster due to lack of evidence, but this nonetheless set an important precedent. It showed that there was no legal reason a person who had left office couldn’t be impeached for actions committed while in office, a precedent that was invoked just thirty years later.
In 1876, Secretary of War William Belknap resigned amid a corruption scandal in an attempt to stop the House from impeaching him. Debate arose in the House over whether or not they could proceed with impeachment, but just hours after his resignation, a committee voted unanimously pass five Articles of Impeachment against him. Shortly afterward, the full House voted, also unanimously, to impeach Belknap, and noted that his resignation was an intentional attempt “to evade the proceedings of impeachment against him”. A similar debate arose in the Senate when the trial began, with Belknap’s defense arguing that the Senate lacked jurisdiction. The Senate rejected this argument, voting 37–29 that they had jurisdiction and that they could try Belknap for impeachment despite the fact that he had resigned. Belknap was ultimately acquitted as they didn’t have enough votes for conviction, but this nonetheless set another critically important precedent that was cited in several future impeachments, perhaps most notably in the impeachment proceedings of Richard Nixon.
After Nixon resigned to prevent himself being impeached and removed and was pardoned by Ford, a House resolution was passed to investigate whether or not they should proceed with impeachment proceedings despite his resignation and pardon. The House Judiciary Committee formed a subcommittee to consider the issue, as well as to examine whether or not Nixon and Ford had struck a corrupt deal for the pardon (as was widely believed at the time), and Ford testified for them. However, they ultimately declined to take any formal action, and the resolution never made it out of the committee.
All of these precedents show that while timing is a concern in impeachment, it’s not as critical as some may think. We have less than two weeks left in Trump’s term, but we have all the time we need to impeach him because we can do so after he’s out of office, be it upon expiration of term or otherwise.
The other question that remains, of course, is whether or not Trump will try to pardon himself or his top officials. He could certainly pardon top officials and even his own family members (an idea he’s been floating for some time, and which will almost certain be challenged on ethical and moral grounds), but it’s unknown whether or not a president can pardon himself. As this has never been attempted, there’s no clear answer and a great deal of debate surrounding this question. However, the Justice Department has suggested it wouldn’t be legal; when Richard Nixon considered pardoning himself, the Office of Legal Counsel explored the issue and concluded that it would not be legal for Nixon to pardon himself because “no one may be a judge in his own case”.
However, the question of whether or not Trump can pardon himself is irrelevant when it comes to impeachment. The Constitution puts few specific limits on the president’s pardon authority, but Article II, Section 2 does note that they “shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” This means that even if Trump does try to pardon himself and somehow succeeds, it wouldn’t actually shield him from impeachment (and yes, it means that Ford’s pardon of Nixon didn’t shield the latter either). Under this limitation, and taking into account the aforementioned precedents, the House could still impeach and the Senate could still convict Trump *even if he’s left office* and *even if he’s pardoned himself*. There is no legal shield against impeachment.
The final question that remains is “Should we impeach Trump?” Some have pointed out that there’s so little time left in his term that it’s a moot question. Others have pointed out that it will only further enrage his supporters. These concerns are completely valid, but nonetheless, the answer is yes, we should and must impeach him. The timing is irrelevant, and while it will likely cause further violence from his supporters in the short term, it is imperative for the long term survival of our democracy that he face consequences for his crimes against our people. Impeachment should also be pursued against his current and former top officials and advisors if they were complicit in his crimes. The point is that neither Trump nor anyone who helped him betray this country should ever be allowed to hold any office ever again.
Articles of Impeachment may be filed in the House as soon as Monday, January 11. Even if impeachment succeeds, it won’t move fast enough to remove Trump from office. That’s why I still advocate for invoking the 25th Amendment. Trump has betrayed our country and he is a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the American people and our government. Vice President Pence is morally and legally obligated to invoke the 25th Amendment, and he should do so immediately. If he does not, then the House should consider impeaching him as well because he’s knowingly allowing a seditious traitor who incited an armed insurrection against our Congress to remain in the White House.
Call you Senators and Representatives. Fill their voicemails and mailboxes. Demand that they impeach Trump, as well as anyone in his administration who helped him betray our country, and demand that they expel members of Congress who are equally guilty (Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, Louis Gohmert, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley, I’m looking at you). The only way we can save our democracy is by holding Trump and his co-conspirators responsible.
It is precisely for times like this that the founders allowed us to remove corrupt officials and bar them from ever holding office again. If we want our republic to survive, it’s imperative that we use this power right now.
Originally published at http://uncoveringthemanwithin.blogspot.com.