Earlier this year, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was still reluctant to impeach Donald Trump, she reportedly told her fellow Democrats, “I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison.” Well, there’s a chance that the impeachment inquiry will make it a lot easier to put him behind bars. It turns out that if and when the House impeaches Trump, it will have the effect of opening a trap door under both Trump and his party. Under the Constitution, he literally cannot be pardoned for any misdeeds spelled out in the articles of impeachment.
On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee released a scathing report on its portion of the impeachment inquiry. Committee chairman Adam Schiff and his team lay out in painstaking detail how Trump tried to use the power of his office to get Ukraine to help him launch a politically motivated investigation into former vice president Joe Biden. In so doing, the report says, Trump “compromised national security to advance his personal political interests.”
A separate section details how Trump made a concerted effort to obstruct the inquiry by tampering with potential witnesses, ordering White House officials not to comply with subpoenas, and withholding records.
Watch Schiff discuss the report’s findings here.
Schiff said that the conduct he and his committee uncovered was so outrageous that “if we merely accept this, that we invite not only further corruption of our elections by this president, but we also invite it of the next president.”
The report makes it clear that Trump is in a trap of his own making. After all, much of the evidence against him comes from his own words and acts.
But according to Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s original Secretary of the Treasury, Trump’s position may be even more dire than that. In an op-ed for The Guardian, Reich argued that the impeachment process must move forward, even if it’s not likely enough Senate Repubs will break ranks to convict and remove Trump.
In making his argument, Reich pointed out that Trump will be in a world of potential legal hurt from the moment the House adopts articles of impeachment. After all, Reich notes, once Trump is impeached, “his chance of getting a pardon for his many crimes will be gone.”
Why? Let’s turn to Article II, section 2, clause 1 of the Constitution.
The President shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment. (emphasis mine)
In other words, if Trump were to be impeached, he could not be pardoned for any federal crimes spelled out in the articles of impeachment. So if Trump were to be impeached and were either removed or were to resign during the trial, a President Mike Pence would not be able to pardon him for any acts for which he is being impeached. Nor would any future president be able to pardon him for such acts.
So the moment Pelosi calls the vote for articles of impeachment, it will have the effect of opening a yawning trap door under Trump. After all, it will all but assure that his many crimes and misdeeds will hang over him like a sword of Damocles.
Schiff left the door open for filing supplemental reports if more information emerges. It became considerably more likely that such information will emerge when a federal appeals court told two of Trump’s banks that they had to comply with House subpoenas for Trump’s financial records.
According to Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman, Trump’s attempts to quash these subpoenas were a fool’s errand. Waldman argued that Trump’s misdeeds “bear directly on pressing public issues” to such an extent that Congress has every right to investigate his financial dealings. Waldman believes that when those records are turned over, there’s “a strong possibility” that they will spell out evidence of criminal activity.
If any of said criminal activity rises to the level of an impeachable offense, it could be bundled into the articles of impeachment. And if those articles are adopted, a President Pence would not be able to derail a subsequent criminal proceeding with a pardon.
One has to wonder if Trump’s most ardent defenders know that voting on articles of impeachment will open the door for a world of trouble for their dear one. Are they playing to potential jurors, not just to Trump and the Republican base? After all, it only takes one person to hang a jury.
But even if that isn’t the case, the fact that Trump is standing on a trap door that could open with the mere adoption of impeachment speaks volumes. And he only has himself to blame.
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