By C.J. Atkins
“Far worse than Watergate.” That’s what veteran journalist Carl Bernstein, one of the reporters who blew the lid off Nixon’s 1972 election burglaries, had to say about President Donald Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call to Georgia Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger. By telling the Peach State’s top election official to “find” him 11,780 more votes—just enough to beat Biden by a single ballot—and then threatening him with “criminal” consequences, Trump has managed to outdo even himself.
His July 2019 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he asked the foreign leader for the “favor” of interfering in the upcoming 2020 U.S. election, was enough to get him impeached. The call to Georgia this past weekend was even worse.
To their credit, Raffensperger and his attorney Ryan Germany pushed back on Trump’s mob-boss pressure tactics, but it doesn’t change what Trump did. The things he asked the secretary of state to do were a violation of federal and state laws forbidding the solicitation of election fraud. But even to describe the president’s actions in such legalese is to soft-pedal his offense.
Trump’s strong-arming of Raffensperger was nothing less than an attempt to overthrow the democratically-elected government of the United States.
If Trump were a private citizen, he’d be facing up to 20 years in prison and hefty fines for the election fraud he tried to extract from Raffensperger. Of course, as long as he holds the presidency, he is shielded from indictment for his crimes. Therefore, Congress must make use of the powers given to it by the Constitution to deal with criminal presidential behavior—impeachment, again.
Thanks to what appears to be a double Democratic victory in the Georgia Senate runoff elections, this time it will actually be a Senate leadership open to giving the article a fair hearing, and perhaps get enough votes to score a conviction. Mitch McConnell sabotaged that outcome last time, but he’ll soon be surrendering the leader’s seat.
Some ask why the country should bother with another divisive impeachment inquiry since Trump will be gone anyway once Biden becomes president on Jan. 20th. Plus, some reason, there’s no time to carry out an investigation, hold hearings, and conduct a trial before he’s out.
But a second impeachment and trial would not be about removing Trump from office; the people of the United States already did that on Nov. 3rd.
But what is there to stop Trump from staging a revival in 2024? He’s already been raising millions of dollars to fund another campaign, he’s got a mass movement backing him that is perfectly fine with cheering on a march toward fascism, and he’s essentially threatened to launch his re-election campaign on the very day Biden takes the oath of office.
The only thing that can definitively block a Trump comeback is to impeach him in the remaining days of his term and then legally destroy any chance of him running again. The Constitution allows for it. Article I, Section 3 empowers the Senate to hand down two sentences if it finds a public official guilty on articles of impeachment. First, as is well known, it can order the offender’s removal from office. Trump would be out of the White House before any trial so that one is irrelevant. But secondly, the Senate can also place a lifetime ban on an impeached president from ever seeking office again. It has been done before.
In 1862, the Senate permanently blacklisted renegade federal Judge West Humphreys, who took up a position in the court system of the traitorous Confederate States of America. Fifteen years later, Secretary of War William Belknap resigned as Congress was considering charges of corruption against him, but the House impeached him anyway, and the Senate asserted it had the authority to convict a person already out of office.
Congress should immediately vote on new articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives are already leading the call. Speaking to reporters as the new Congress opened this week, she declared Trump’s phone call was “absolutely…an impeachable offense.” If it was up to her, she said, there would be fresh articles of impeachment on the floor right away.
Even the cautious House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the 2019 impeachment inquiry, said the Georgia call was “among the most despicable abuses of power of [Trump’s] long list,” and said it was “potentially criminal” and therefore “potentially impeachable.”
Come Inauguration Day, the Biden administration’s incoming attorney general should establish an independent investigator to conduct a full probe of not just this latest case of sedition, but the rest of the crimes committed by Trump, his family, and associates.
And those crimes are many: campaign finance violations, tax fraud, real estate fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States by sabotaging the Postal Service, violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution by profiting from his government position, violating the Hatch Act by using public property and resources for political campaigning, obstructing justice in the Mueller inquiry, bribing the Ukrainian president, and multiple allegations of sexual assault.
As president, Trump has been shielded from prosecution for all these offenses, but in just two weeks’ time, his immunity will end. Private citizen Donald J. Trump will immediately become vulnerable to the workings of the justice system. That’s undoubtedly a major reason behind his desperate attempts to dodge the democratic verdict voters delivered against him on Election Day.
Of course, it’s admittedly unlikely that the Democratic leadership will pursue a second impeachment against Trump, but if it wanted to bar him from ever again threatening U.S. democracy, it would consider the action.
Given the scale of the crisis facing the country with the coronavirus and the economic depression it sparked, the advice of those like House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y, who says to “look forward, not backward” is understandable. There are plenty of reasons to perhaps conclude that it’s best to let Trump fade from our national rearview mirror as quickly as possible and get on with clawing our way back from his disasters.
But actually, impeaching Trump again would precisely be an act of looking forward—all the way ahead to 2024. Without condemning his seditious crimes and convicting him of them, he will do everything he can to commit them again. Over 350,000 people are dead, as many as 10 million jobs have evaporated forever, and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is a total failure so far.
The country cannot afford another encounter with this repeat offender. Impeach him again, and this time, convict him. (IPA Service)