President Trump has committed three known, impeachable offenses:
On January 6, 2021, Trump incited a violent insurrection against the United States Government.
On February 13, 2017, Trump committed his first known act of obstruction of justice by pressuring FBI director James Comey to show lenience towards Michael Flynn.
Even though the Mueller Report revealed examples of criminal behavior early in Trump’s tenure, DOJ policy states that a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime. This means that impeachment is the only recourse for when presidents commit high crimes and misdemeanors. Trump has committed such high crimes, that is without question. But why impeach him with such little time left in his administration?
Trump needs to be removed immediately to eliminate any threats towards the current government and to safeguard against future presidents that seek to similarly abuse their powers.
Trump is an imminent threat to the U.S. Government
The timeline of last Wednesday’s events show that insurrectionists were mere minutes away from reaching the floor of the U.S. Senate while it was still in session. If police were ruthlessly beaten by a mob that carried thin-blue-line flags, what would have happened if the same mob got their hands on members of Congress? Some of these insurrectionists brought zip-cuffs and weapons, and chanted “where’s Nancy?” and “hang Mike Pence” — it isn’t a stretch to imagine this mob would have committed atrocities against Congress if the opportunity arose.
While last Wednesday’s mob was beating and killing police in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election, Trump sat idly by and didn’t attempt to defuse the violent situation he caused. In the week since, he hasn’t atoned for his actions or spoken against the insurrectionists, insisting his pre-riot speech was “totally appropriate.”
The FBI has recently learned that the insurrectionist threat has not subsided, reporting that state capitals are under threat of further armed protests. These protests have the potential to get out of hand if Trump insists on perpetuating lies that the election was stolen.
Removing Trump now will mean that the U.S. bureaucracy and security apparatus will no longer be under his command, making the final week of his presidency that much safer.
Safeguarding against future abuses of power
Impeachment is being carried out now not only to punish Trump’s actions and to safeguard the government, but also to deter future presidents from taking similar actions in the future.
The U.S. President has awesome powers, including significant control over a vast federal bureaucracy, including military, law enforcement, and clandestine services. We have seen how far Trump has been willing to go to get his way, pressuring even junior members of government to bend the rules in his favor or to outright break the law.
Congress is the first branch of government and was always intended to be a check on the President’s powers with its powers over the budget, laws/treaties, and investigations/impeachments. If the people’s branch of government were to fail to stand up to a president that attempted a coup, why should we expect Congress to uphold its constitutional duties if and when a more effective and ruthless president comes to power?
It might be tempting for some Republicans to hope that Trump and his allies would overthrow a valid election in order to remain in power. However, it may come to pass that a far-left government in the future would attempt the same misadventure in the future. Once the vicious circle of extra-legal coups and autocratic rule gets started, it is hard to stop, and the rule of law that has protected life and property for nearly two-hundred and fifty years will be lost.
What about due process rights?
Republicans against Trump’s second impeachment have argued that such a speedy action violates his due process rights. That would only be true if an impeachment trial was conducted in a normal court of law or if there wasn’t already extensive evidence of abuses of power.
Impeachment is a political not a legal action. Elected officials in the House indict with a majority vote and the Senate then holds a trial. The Senate decides on rules of a trial, but such rules would not be found in any court of law. Senators serve as prosecutors, defenders, and judges. One does not have to be found to violate any laws to be impeached, it is merely enough for Congress to vote to convict one of such an abuse.
It might sound scary that Congress can impeach and convict someone without the typical protections of due process, but the threat to life or property from this power is nil. The only consequences of an impeachment conviction are removal from office and disqualification from holding future office.
Furthermore, impeachments are difficult to carry out. A successful conviction requires that both chambers of Congress vote for the action, with a high 2/3 vote requirement for conviction in the Senate. As such, impeachments are rare. Only three presidents have been impeached: Andrew Johnson in 1868, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Donald Trump in 2019 and 2020.
The claims that Congress will flippantly strip presidential power using impeachment have no basis in fact. Congress has ceded significant powers to the executive branch for many decades, culminating in an “imperial presidency.” The president is the only nationally elected politician in an era when even local and state campaigns have become nationalized. This means the president has incredible political influence over Congress. Impeaching one miscreant president will not change this dynamic.
There are additional political restraints on impeachment as well. If Congress conducts an unpopular impeachment, they are liable to be voted out of office. That may well happen with some of the supporters of impeachment today.
What about unity?
Some have said that impeachment “harms unity” and will make it harder to come together in support of Biden’s presidency. Nothing should unite Americans more than our fundamental belief in the rule of law. In the United States, we have an elected president, not a king. When people break the laws and norms of our free society, we must see to it that such transgressions are rightfully punished, no matter their status in the world.
A handful of Republican politicians have shown willingness to put their careers on the line to punish Trump’s transgressions. Our society will be that much stronger if the rest of the Republican party comes to realize the gravity of the situation and moves to hold the president to account.