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No ‘January Exception’

Wed, 02/03/2021 - 18:16


It is difficult to argue with Preet Bharara, the former United States attorney for the Southern District of New York fired by President Trump early on, who said this week that what is “tearing the country apart is the damn insurrection, not attempts to hold people accountable for it.” Mr. Bharara was reacting to a widely shared sentiment on the part of Republicans in Congress — and among the Trumpist base — that what is needed now is unity. So much for the party of law and order, whose loudest voices are now only eager to “lock her up” when they are speaking about someone in another political party or, equally often, a race or ethnic group other than their own.

A majority of Republican senators have made it clear already that they plan to acquit the former president after his impeachment trial begins. They have been given cover in this by citing the nonsense claim that, after leaving the White House, ex-presidents cannot be prosecuted. House Democratic impeachment managers have been quick to rebut that line of thinking. “There is no ‘January Exception’ to impeachment or any other provision of the Constitution,” they wrote.

“If the Senate does not try President Trump (and convict him), it risks declaring to all future Presidents that there will be no consequences, no accountability, indeed no Congressional response at all if they violate their oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution’ in their final weeks,” the managers warned.

The core argument that the House managers made in a brief filed Tuesday was that Mr. Trump was “singularly responsible” for the mayhem at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and used the power of the presidency to further his own political interests that day and in the now-infamous call to the Georgia secretary of state, asking him to “find” enough votes to turn the state result his way. Mr. Trump’s lawyers have indicated that they will use a “no harm, no foul” defensive strategy and that, anyway, he was only asking for a more accurate vote count. The Trump team’s defense is shoddy, but it is all they’ve got. Unfortunately for the preservation of democracy, far too many Americans will fall for it and not hold him or his enablers accountable.

Unfortunately for any hope of there being justice in all of this, the weak arguments against a conviction will be all most Republican senators need to provide cover for a “no” vote — enough to protect them from the perceived threat of a primary challenge come re-election time. “Stop the steal,” the rallying cry of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, was based on a lie promulgated by the president and echoed by Republican members of Congress. It is also a lie that this post-presidency impeachment is unconstitutional.

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