Monday, January 18, 2021

For the Record: The Arc of Impeachment is Long

Edmund Burke in the House of Commons. Photo12/Universal Images Group, via New York Times (and a Bret Stephens column of last August, "Why Edmund Burke Still Matters").

Why, yes. Yes, you are totally wrong.

To say nothing of the Blount and Belknap precedents:

William Blount was a Revolutionary War veteran, North Carolina delegate at the Constitutional Convention, and one of the first senators from the new state of Tennessee, and a speculator in millions of acres of Tennessee land who was in an extremely tight financial spot when land prices collapsed in 1795, and decided to fix things by mounting a conspiracy to help the British government seize Louisiana and Florida from Spanish control, which would make his own holdings more valuable (how Trumpy is that, using his office to make a deal with a foreign power to shore up his business interests). When the scheme was exposed in 1797, Blount fled home to Knoxville and the Senate expelled him, but the House of Representatives voted to impeach him anyway, and did, and the Senate held his trial in 1798. The Senate ended up dismissing the case without a verdict, but because Blount had been a senator, not because he had stopped being one—they held that senators can only be expelled, not impeached, and that precedent still stands. 

And a former president, Rep. John Quincy Adams (Whig-Massachusetts), who had managed impeachment efforts in the House against the vile John Tyler in 1843, discussing on the House floor whether Tyler's secretary of state Daniel Webster could be impeached in 1846, three years after he had left office, was emphatic:

“I hold myself, so long as I have the breath of life in my body, amenable to impeachment by this House for everything I did during the time I held any public office.”

As to William Belknap, Secretary of War in the Grant administration, after he was busted in 1876 for taking bribes in return for lucrative defense contracts, he ran to the White House and resigned his office, bursting into tears, the House impeached him nevertheless, and the Senate tried him, though they weren't able to muster the necessary two-thirds vote to convict.

So there is really no barrier whatever to the Senate trying Trump now or ten years from now. I'd like to see them do it about a dozen times myself.

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