Donald Trump Must Be Banished
January 9, 2021
American democracy is facing the kind of existential threat that destroyed the German Weimar Republic in 1933.
The President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, is an enemy of the people, an enemy of the state. Trump presents a clear and present danger to American democracy, and he must be eliminated as a political force. Donald Trump must never be allowed to run for public office again. He must be humiliated and disgraced.
The best way to bar Trump from political life would be through a swift impeachment and conviction. Nancy Pelosi said on Friday, January 8, that the House could move to impeach the President if he did not resign “immediately.”
However, if the Republicans in Congress block an impeachment, or refuse to convict the President, which is likely, a U.S. Attorney (not the Attorney General) should prosecute Trump after he leaves office. That is based on the premise that Trump violated criminal laws, which seems very likely. President Joe Biden should not initiate any such prosecution, because that would politicize it, but he should not oppose one, either.
Strong Case for Impeachment
Congress should impeach Trump on two counts:
· committing sedition, by inciting the insurrection against Congress
· attempting to tamper with election results in Georgia
The facts are clear; Trump’s own words show that he abused his office. There is no need for an extensive presentation of evidence or lengthy deliberations.
Impeachment is a rare punishment, designed to force a President from office for abusing his power. Trump will soon leave the White House, of course. However, by impeaching the President, and convicting him, Congress can bar him from running for office again. The Constitution provides for “disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States” as part of a conviction pursuant to an impeachment proceeding.
Fomenting an Insurrection
The President of the United States has committed sedition, by inciting his followers to rebel against the government. For weeks, the President promoted the rally on January 6 (the day on which Congress would certify the votes of the Electoral College) to protest the election, telling his followers it would be “wild”.
Then, in his speech to his followers at the rally, Donald Trump instigated a violent assault on Congress. Over the course of 70 minutes, he whipped up the crowd with repeated claims that the election was stolen. Trump egged on his supporters, urging them to stop “weak” Republicans from voting to accept Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. This was Trump’s last-ditch attempt to overturn the election.
Here’s a typical passage in his speech:
“All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical left Democrats…We will never give up. We will never concede, it doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal”.
Then, at the end of his remarks, the President issued his call to action. He urged his followers to go to the Capitol so Republicans could “take back our country”:
“So we’re going to …walk down Pennsylvania Avenue…we’re going to the Capitol…and we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
The President as Anarchist
The President acted like a rabble-rouser trying to provoke violence and anarchy and disenfranchise the 81 million Americans who voted for Biden. As Liz Cheney, the third-ranking Republican in the House said,
“There’s no question the president formed the mob, the president incited the mob, the president addressed the mob. He lit the flame.”
As the rioters stormed the Capitol, the President watched the assault on TV and seemed pleased. When the mayor of Washington called Trump, desperately pleading for him to send units of the National Guard to the Hill, Trump declined. The President’s failure to provide more security forces recklessly endangered the lives of hundreds of lawmakers and their aides.
It was Vice President Pence, not Trump, who eventually approved the order to deploy the National Guard and law enforcement units to help the overwhelmed Capitol Police.
Tampering with Election Results
In his call with Brad Raffenspberger, the Republican Georgia Secretary of State, the President demanded that he change the vote tally. Trump tried to intimidate Raffenspberger and his counsel, telling them that they could face criminal penalties if they did not change the voting results.
The President was trying to “fix” election results by exerting improper pressure upon an official. The President made his outrageous request after Raffenspberger had certified the state’s results. Georgia had conducted two recounts to rebut unfounded allegations of voting irregularities. There was no evidence of voting fraud.
Trump probably violated both Georgia and Federal laws, which prohibit tampering with elections. In any event, the President’s attempt to reverse the voting results was an egregious abuse of power. Furthermore, Trump’s malfeasance was part of a sustained pattern. Trump had called numerous officials in various states demanding that they ignore the popular vote in their states and appoint alternative slates of electors. That was also an abuse of his power.
But Impeachment is A Long Shot
Unfortunately, most Republicans in Congress will probably not cooperate with Democrats on impeaching the President. They will likely repeat their shameful performance in the previous impeachment proceedings, which they ridiculed and undermined. They are still too beholden to their leader, even after he instigated a direct assault on the House and the Senate. Under the Constitution, a majority of House members must vote to impeach the President. The Senate then conducts the trial, and two-thirds of the Senators must vote to convict the President.
The Democrats hold a very thin majority, just 11 seats, in the House. The harsh reality is that late Wednesday night, 60% of the Republican Representatives voted against certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. That was after the rioters had smashed into the House and forced all those Representatives to flee to safety. Even Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, the two top Republicans in the House, voted to nullify the election results.
Only 40% of House Republicans agreed to respect the results of a free and fair election.
It is terrifying that a majority of House Republicans voted to prevent a duly elected candidate from assuming office. They betrayed our democracy to show loyalty to their Dear Leader. They will not vote to impeach him. Will the other 40% dare to brook their colleagues’ wrath by turning on Trump? Don’t bet on it.
House Democrats might be able to hold their members in line and obtain a vote to impeach on party lines. But that would not be the broad, bipartisan condemnation of the President’s actions needed to exile him from public life.
Would the Senate Convict Trump?
And the chances for success in the Senate also look slim.
Before Trump’s thugs assaulted the Capitol, 12 Republican Senators planned to oppose the certification of Biden’s victory. That is 25% of the Republicans in the Senate. To their (partial) credit, six of them changed their position after the riot.
But no Senators should have voted against accepting the Electoral College results. Can we realistically expect enough Republican Senators to turn against Trump and convict him? Has Mitch McConnell really had a “road to Damascus” moment about the President?
If Impeachment Fails, Trump Must Be Prosecuted
If Congress won’t bar Trump from office, the Justice Department should indict him on criminal charges. At a minimum, Trump should be prosecuted for tampering with election results in Georgia and committing sedition.
The government should probably also indict the former President for obstructing justice, which is a criminal act, too. Special Counsel Robert Mueller documented at least 10 instances in which Trump tried to interfere with government investigations or trials by asking key personnel to lie or create false documents. In his exhaustive report, Mueller essentially invited the DOJ to prosecute Trump after he left office.
As Mueller noted, although DOJ guidelines protect a sitting President from indictment, that immunity lapses once the individual returns to private life.
A Risk of Backlash
I previously argued that the Biden Administration should not prosecute Donald Trump, because it might set a dangerous precedent that could be used to target Democratic leaders in the future. That is still a big risk, especially as we have already seen how easily President Trump politicized and corrupted the Justice Department. So criminal prosecutions would be a last resort. But at this point, the stakes for our democracy are too high. The Justice Department should send a clear warning that Presidents are not above the law; they will pay the price if they act like criminals. Otherwise, another lawless, despotic leader like Trump would assume that he or she can violate the law with impunity. They would feel free to obstruct justice, instigate violence and tamper with elections.
President Biden should not be involved in any decisions on whether or not to prosecute Trump, and his Attorney General, presumably Merrick Garland, should not instigate any criminal investigations. Michael Sherwin, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, should lead any prosecution.
The D.C. Attorney General Should Indict Trump
Ken Kohl, a top prosecutor in Sherwin’s office, said on Friday that no criminal charges would be filed against anyone who made inflammatory remarks at the rally, which indicates that the office would not indict President Trump. That is a mistake, and Sherwin should reverse his position. The President’s remarks triggered the attack on the Capitol, and he should not be exempt from punishment. If impeachment fails, Sherwin should file charges against Trump after he leaves office on January 20.
Criminal prosecutions of Trump would infuriate many of his followers, of course, and they might create a political backlash that could hurt Democratic candidates in elections. The conspiracy-theory crowd would have a field day. The Proud Boys or the Boogaloo crowd might resort to violence…but that’s a topic for another day.
Rescuing the Republican Party from Trump
On the positive side, a conviction of Trump would be due punishment for his crimes and should prevent him from running for office. Hopefully, most Americans, including many moderate Republicans, would assume that the trial would be fair. Trump would be disgraced and barred from public life.
Moderate Republicans will have a better shot at reclaiming and reforming their party if his malignant influence is eliminated. They face a difficult task, given his iron grip on the Party. On Thursday morning, the day after the President’s mob stormed Congress, members of the Republican National Committee applauded Trump when he called into their meeting.
If Trump is not impeached or convicted, our republic will remain in great danger. Trump may run for President again in 2024, and he might win. Even if he doesn’t run, Trump may still dominate the Republican Party, setting its agenda and tone.
We cannot allow this would-be dictator to play either role. Trump must be banished from politics.