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Editorial: The Editorial Board's thoughts on the impeachment trial

Editorial: The Editorial Board's thoughts on the impeachment trial

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We caught up with Ed Board, the personification of our editorial board, to get his thoughts on recent events.

So, let’s talk about the impeachment trial. First of all, do you think it’s constitutional?

Ed: Don’t know.

What do you mean you don’t know? You’re an opinion writer. Don’t you have an opinion?

Ed: Opinions are like — well, you know what opinions are like. What you really want is an informed opinion.

All right, then, what’s your informed opinion?

Ed: I told you. We don’t know. People can argue all they want — Democrats say it is, Republicans say it’s not — but the only honest answer is, nobody knows. The constitution is silent on the subject. No court has ever ruled on it and likely never will. Yes, there are some historical examples of impeachment trials after someone has left office. The British parliament held an impeachment trial for a former Governor-General of Bengal after he had left office, but that was after the United States was independent, so while American law is based on English common law, the question is whether we can cite an example that happened after we left the British Empire. We do have our own example from 1876 when the Senate tried former Secretary of War William Belknap after he left office — heck, the House even impeached him after resigned. It was just an hour or so, but still he was technically a private citizen by then. Based on my reading of history, everybody agreed Belknap was guilty of taking kickbacks but many senators had qualms about convicting him since he was no longer in office. So we had the same situation we do now: A majority of senators voted that the trial was constitutional, but not two-thirds, so Belknap never got convicted. The Senate vote is interesting but not conclusive because Congress occasionally does things later deemed unconstitutional.

The only way we’ll ever know would be for someone out of office to get convicted, then go to court and get a court ruling. The odds of a case ever getting to that stage are quite rare.

OK then, moving on. What did you think of the Democrats’ arguments this week?

Ed: Not impressed.

What? How could you not be impressed by all the videos?

Ed: Oh, the videos were terrifying. Every American should see them to understand just how close we came to having a bunch of members of Congress murdered. But everyone should also understand this isn’t a real trial.

What do you mean it’s not a real trial?

Ed: This is an impeachment trial, not a criminal trial. It’s a political event. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, it’s just a different thing. But here’s the problem: Trump is essentially being accused of a crime – inciting a riot, a seditious riot, at that. But he’s not being tried in federal court by a jury, he’s being tried in the Senate by a bunch of politicians. Those are such completely different things you can’t really compare them.

If this were a real trial, those videos would have been the opening argument, not the whole case. There’d have been witnesses called. Prosecutors would have subpoenaed aides who were with Trump that day to testify about his intentions and why he waited so long to call off the mob. They’d want to hear from rioters themselves who might testify that they were taking their direction from Trump, indirectly if not directly. They’d want paper trails and text messages. They’d want to dig into how the whole thing was organized and funding and what, if any connection, Trump or his associates had with that. It’s pretty clear from court filings that’s what the FBI is doing right now — trying to dig up all those dots and connect them. How many of those get connected to Trump himself, well, we’ll find out later if he ever gets charged. But this isn’t that.

So are you saying Trump shouldn’t have been impeached?

Ed: No, not saying that. Impeachment isn’t meant to cover just criminal offenses. Even if what Trump did doesn’t meet the legal threshold for a crime — that’s a matter for the Justice Department right now — you can certainly argue you don’t want a president to encourage people to swarm the Capitol to interfere with the lawful counting of votes. Heck, you can argue you don’t want a president calling up state officials trying to strong-arm them into finding votes. Those ought to be easy arguments.

They didn’t seem to be for many Republicans.

Ed: True. They should have been. But then again, those Republicans shouldn’t have been voting to toss out electoral votes they didn’t like, either. But the point is, impeachment is a political process, not a legal one, so we shouldn’t be surprised by political responses, even if we disagree with them. Objectively speaking, Bill Clinton probably did commit perjury and obstruction of justice back in the ‘90s, but Democrats weren’t too keen to impeach him. If that had been a Republican president caught in such circumstances, you can bet Democrats would have been clamoring for impeachment. Likewise, if that had been a Democratic president inciting, say, a Black Lives Matter crowd to storm the Capitol, pretty sure you’d be seeing Republicans take a very different view of things.

You seem pretty blasé about the whole thing.

Ed: Just being realistic. We already know the outcome. There’s definitely merit in a public forum to make sure everyone understands just what happened on January 6. And there’s definitely merit in punishing Trump in some way. But the reality is it’s almost impossible to get the two-thirds majority necessary convict a president – or a former president – in an impeachment trial unless you’ve got broad bipartisan support and that’s just not there.

So what should happen?

Ed: That’s easy. Major League Baseball should ditch those Little League rules about seven-inning doubleheaders and putting a runner on second in extra innings.

Umm, we meant in the impeachment trial.

Ed: Oh, that. If Democrats were smart, after Trump concludes his defense, they should move to waive a vote on impeachment – since they know won’t get two-thirds – and instead have the Senate vote on Tim Kaine’s proposal for censure, plus disqualification from office. That seems a lesser punishment, but it will be easier to get votes for that than an impeachment conviction. Republicans wouldn’t be able to argue that’s unconstitutional, they’d have to vote on the essential question of whether what Trump did on January 6 deserves formal condemnation.

Do you think it will happen?

Ed: The odds of that are exactly the same as the odds of enough Republicans voting to convict.

— The Roanoke Times

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