Dershowitz: Senate should dismiss impeachment article since Trump is private citizen

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Alan Dershowitz, the celebrity attorney who defended former President Trump during his first impeachment trial, argued Wednesday that the Senate should throw out the current article of impeachment against Trump now that he is a private citizen.

In a piece published in The Wall Street Journal, Dershowitz shared the argument that many GOP lawmakers have made that it is unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a former president.

“For the victorious Democrats to seek revenge against Donald Trump would set a terrible precedent, distract from President Biden’s agenda, and make it hard to heal the country. Better to move on,” wrote Dershowitz, who is an opinion contributor for The Hill.

Whether or not a former president can be impeached has been heavily debated since the article of impeachment was filed against Trump earlier this month after a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol. The Constitution does not have any specific language detailing whether this action would be allowed.

Trump’s term officially ended on Wednesday when President Biden was sworn in. Trump did not attend the inauguration, leaving the White House for the last time just hours before the ceremony began.

Though arguing against the Senate taking action, Dershowitz did acknowledge in his op-ed that impeaching former officials is not unprecedented. He called back to the impeachment of Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876. Belknap had accepted kickbacks in exchange for appointing an associate to a lucrative military trading position.

“Secretary of War William W. Belknap was indisputably guilty of numerous impeachable offences, to which he confessed as he resigned his office hours before the House unanimously impeached him in 1876,” wrote Dershowitz. “But two dozen senators who believed he was guilty voted to acquit on jurisdictional grounds. A close vote nearly a century and a half ago doesn’t establish a binding precedent.”

The constitutional lawyer argued that prosecuting a former president would be too similar to other nations where predecessors are routinely attacked by the administration that follows them. He recalled former President Lincoln’s words to the Confederacy before it was defeated in the Civil War: “With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.” 

Trump became the first president to be impeached twice when the House voted to impeach him on Jan. 13 saying he incited the deadly riots at the Capitol. Ten GOP lawmakers joined Democrats in voting to impeach the former president, the most bipartisan impeachment vote in the nation’s history.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week agreed that Trump had “provoked” the rioters, but has not stated how he will vote in a possible Senate trial.

Trump’s legal team for his Senate trial has yet to be announced, but Dershowitz has signaled that he would be willing to defend the former president once again. During his first impeachment trial, Trump was acquitted by the GOP-controlled Senate in February 2020.

Democrats control the Senate with a narrow majority, and they would need at least 17 Republicans to join their vote to get the two-thirds needed to convict the former president.

Tags Alan Dershowitz Capitol breach Capitol riot Donald Trump Impeachment Jon Ossoff Mitch McConnell Raphael Warnock Senate trial The Wall Street Journal

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