Sun. Apr 18th, 2021

The Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., May 14, 2020 (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Now that Donald Trump has left office, there’s no issue of speed or a deadline in terms of the Senate trial of a former president. Thus, the Senate should take its time and do a thorough job on the task at hand. This probably begins with a full debate about whether the U.S. Senate has the authority to impeach a president who has already left office, and whether the sections of the Constitution that discuss impeachment and refer to “the President” mean any president, current or former, or only the current president.

Once that is resolved, a thorough job means calling witnesses and giving the president’s lawyer — the newly hired Butch Bowers — plenty of time to cross-examine them.

House Democrats already made the highly questionable decision to impeach Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” which will lead to a lot of arguments about whether what Trump said meets the vague legal standard of “incitement,” and whether the riot on Capitol Hill meets the standard of “insurrection.” The president didn’t have complete control over what the crowd at the Save America rally did. But he did have complete control over what he did once the rioting started, and there were plenty of claims that the president did not respond to the unfolding crisis with all deliberate speed.

Impeaching a president isn’t supposed to be just a really emphatic form of censure. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, deliberately, and completely, with consistent respect for the rights of the accused and the rule of law. This might frustrate President Biden’s desire to turn the page and start a new chapter of the American presidency, but Congress cannot and should not halfway impeach a president.

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