Trail & Error
By Steven J. Grisafi, PhD.
The impeachment of any American President is an event of extreme interest to all Americans. The occurrence of a second impeachment for one President is even more disconcerting. Here I found a good explanation of the situation: Can a Former President Be Impeached and Convicted? The author’s discussion suggests that the House of Representatives can impeach former presidents, and other officials, even after they have left office. There is an important distinction here. We are considering impeachment, not the Senate trial. President Trump was impeached while in office. If evidence were to arise of illegal actions committed by a former president while he was in office, the argument of this Princeton Professor suggests that the House of Representatives can impeach him while he is a private citizen. The purpose of doing so would be the same as is now being used against Mr. Trump: to prevent him from holding further office and to deny him privileges granted to former presidents. However, any denial of those privileges would not remove his Secret Service protection for life.
As explained in the article there is a confounding precedent established by the impeachment of Secretary of War William Belknap. Compounding this precedent was the decision of the Senate to deem it necessary to vote first for conviction upon any articles of impeachment and then vote again upon denial of privileges. Our legal scholars of today assert that the Constitution grants full discretion to the Senate as to how they may choose to conduct an impeachment trial. It seems apparent to me that the freedom of the Senate to do so has left our posterity to confront the difficulties resulting from faulty precedent. Americans need to recognize that some precedents established during the early years of the American republic were due to the inadequate education of many of America’s early politicians. Moral thinking is often not logical thinking.
The Senate trial of any such former president, and also of Mr. Trump, will be an odd affair because the Senate will first vote for conviction upon the articles of impeachment. Removal from office is the punishment of conviction. But Mr. Trump will not be in office during his trial. Similarly, other officials would not be in office if they were to be impeached after having left office. From faulty precedent it has become the procedure that it is only after the vote for conviction that the Senate must vote again to deny the convicted the privilege of holding further office. My opinion differs. It appears to me that the use of the conjunction “and” implies that denial of holding further office is automatic upon conviction of any article of impeachment. The use of the conjunction “and” implies that the two clauses it joins together are to be taken as the same thought. If the Framers had written two distinct sentences, instead of one, then I would agree that denial of holding further office would be discretionary. Conviction automatically implies denial. There ought be only one vote taken: the vote for conviction. Upon conviction both removal from office, and denial of the privilege of holding further office, is the punishment.