The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives made history when it impeached President Donald Trump twice during his single term in office – once in the 116th Congress, and then at the start of the 117th Congress, a week before the end of Mr. Trump’s term. The first impeachment, in December 2019, charged Mr. Trump with:
Article 1: “Abuse of Power,” based on allegations that he solicited Ukrainian authorities to influence the 2020 presidential election; and
Article 2: “Obstruction of Congress” during House-members’ investigations into details of the first article.
Both impeachments ran almost entirely along partisan lines. In the House, only Democrats voted “for” on both articles, while all Republicans and three Democrats voted “against.”
Senate voting also followed party lines, with all Democrats voting “guilty” on both articles. Senator Romney (R-UT) voted “guilty” on the first article, but only Republicans voted “not guilty” on both articles. Votes of 48-52 (for conviction) on the first article and 47-53 on the second article did not reach the 67-33 majority required to remove the president from office.
The second impeachment of Mr. Trump was brought by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives on January 13, 2021 – a week before the end of his term. A single article charging him with “Incitement of Insurrection” was based on allegations (but no actual proof) that he incited the January 6th invasion of the U. S. Capitol. All Democrat Representatives and ten Republicans voted to approve the article.
In the Senate, 50 Democrats and 7 Republicans voted “guilty” on February 13, 2021 – 3 weeks after Mr. Trump left office. That Senate-vote was also insufficient to convict Mr. Trump.
In earlier writings I have commented on the Constitution’s protocols1 for impeaching and removing the president from office. In those comments I called Impeachment a “useless instrument,” since political alignments will almost always make obtaining enough votes for conviction by the Senate impossible, even when serious charges are involved. In the past, some lesser officials have been impeached and convicted, but none of the three impeached presidents was convicted and removed from office.
Of course, the high bar of a 2/3 Senate majority-vote for conviction also protects presidents from removal on merely partisan grounds. Had a simple Senate majority-vote for conviction been required, all three impeached presidents would have been removed from office.2
In the 234-year span of our Constitutional government, no president has been subjected to organized persecution after leaving office. After Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, his political enemies seemed poised to pursue and possibly prosecute him, but President Ford stopped such moves by granting Mr. Nixon a “…full, free, and absolute pardon…for all offenses against the United States which he has committed or may have committed…”3 Democrats never forgave Mr. Ford for depriving them of the chance to dance on Mr. Nixon’s grave.
But (as they say) that was then and this is now. Today, a year and a half after Mr. Trump’s departure, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is conducting a jihad against the former president via televised hearings that ignore all conventional jurisprudential norms and conventions. The possible objectives of this ongoing campaign are:
- Generating enough treasonable “evidence” to fuel outright prosecution and eventual conviction of Mr. Trump by legal arms of the government;
- Smearing the former president so thoroughly that his re-election would be impossible.
- So enraging Mr. Trump that he will definitely run again in 2024.
Regarding the first objective, U. S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has recently said he is “open” to possibly prosecuting Mr. Trump for his role in the “January 6th insurrection.” And with respect to the second objective, House Democrats seem intent on carrying their televised Kangaroo Court on through the midterm elections in November. They obviously want their party’s candidates to run against “evil Trump” in those elections.
The third, more theoretical objective was suggested by writer and former Bush-43 official Tom Basile, in his recent article, “Who’s Afraid of Trump.”4 He argues that Democrats have nothing positive to offer voters, and “desperately” want Mr. Trump to run again because they believe they can beat him on style-points alone, as they (apparently) did with Joe Biden in 2020. He backs up his theory with statistics showing 64% of voters don’t want Mr. Trump to run again – including 68% of independents and 27% of Republicans.
Mr. Basile has a point about Mr. Trump’s brash, unpopular style, but it’s not the only point to be made. The issue for 2024 is whether voters can be persuaded to forget the terrible mess Democrats have made of the economy, immigration, crime, etc., and choose another unknown Democrat for president – all because voters hate Donald Trump’s style. Really? Color me doubtful on that.
Whatever the objectives, is all this really happening? Old guys like Yours Truly, and possibly some younger folks, are watching these proceedings with shock and amazement. The operative questions are:
- Can an ex-president be prosecuted for actions he took while in office?
- If so, why hasn’t it been done before?
- Can it be stopped now?
- If not, what will the long-term effects be?
(1) The Constitution is a rather small, readily available document, written in simple prose that even a middle-school child can understand. I don’t claim to be a Constitutional scholar, but I have read through the text more than once to remind me of its contents. In it I can find no reference to how an ex-president may be (or must be) treated. Evidently he becomes fair game for any who might wish to do him harm, after he leaves office.
(2) If that is true, then why has no previous ex-president been hounded, prosecuted, and convicted for “high crimes and misdemeanors” which he might have committed while in office? Is it because all 44 previous presidents were pure as the driven snow, while Donald Trump was (and is) uniquely wicked? Call me cynical, but I doubt all that. Yes, Mr. Trump was a disruptive political opponent for Democrats, but really…
The more accurate explanation would be a two-centuries-old “gentleman’s agreement” which directed politicians of both parties to let bygones be bygone, with respect to ex-presidents, so responsible officials and the public’s elected representatives could move ahead with the country’s business. Obviously, not every president has been an exemplar of moral rectitude, but once each of the previous 44 left office, that “agreement” indicated that it was time to move on.
(3) That gentleman’s agreement, however, is no longer operative. A significant political bloc either knows nothing about the agreement, or else is willing to trash it in a headlong rush to destroy their mortal enemy, Donald Trump. This is a very dangerous disruption of the peaceful transferal of political power, as ordered by voters’ election-choices.
Can the move against Donald Trump be stopped? Maybe. But stopping a disruption of governmental conventions is always difficult because of the surprise-factor. Evidently, no Republicans saw the post-White House Get Trump campaign coming. We – The People – might want to stop it, but only limited governmental instruments are available to us, within the boundaries of law. Forming a plan and putting an effective operation in motion will take time. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s enemies are monster-mashing onward to destroy him, politically and financially.
(4) What will the long-term effect be if these societal disruptions continue? We have withstood disruptions before – including a real Civil War, with real guns and bullets. Although the wounds were deep, we recovered enough to gain 20th-century Great Power status on the world stage.
In 2020 we dealt with the COVID pandemic, country-wide race-riots (called “mostly peaceful” by leftist media), and irregularities which cast doubt on election-results. We’ll probably recover from these disruptions eventually, but we’re still feeling their effects.
But the persecution (and possible prosecution) of ex-president Trump, if given free rein, will establish a destructive new model for the country. From now on, every ex-president will be hounded and prosecuted for “crimes” that his enemies will claim he committed while in office. He can expect to have his business harassed, his finances ruined, and his family defamed by years of litigation and adverse publicity. It will amount to indirect destruction of the Executive Branch.
Democrats will try to claim that piling on Mr. Trump was just a necessary, one-time “cleansing of the Augean Stables.” But that dodge won’t work. Eventually, even attorneys-general of states and cities will feel empowered to gain fame by going after ex-presidents. Who will stop them? And with such post-regnum persecution normalized, who will want to serve? (Does Good Old Joe realize that he’ll be next in line for the rack, the whipping post and the stocks?)
“I looked on my right hand, but there was no man that would know me; refuge failed me: no man cared for my soul.” (Psalm 142:4)
- House procedures found in Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 of the Constitution; Senate procedures found in Article I, Section 3, Clause 6.
- Past conviction-votes in the Senate on impeachment articles:
Johnson (1868): 35-19 (one vote short of conviction)
Clinton (1998): 55-45 on jury-tampering article
Trump (2021): 57-43
3. See full text of Mr. Ford’s pardon message at https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/proclamation-4311-granting-pardon-richard-nixon
4. See Mr. Basile’s full article at https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2022/jul/29/whos-afraid-of-donald-trump/