Cotton: Senate lacks authority to hold impeachment trial once Trump leaves office

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSinema scuttles hopes for filibuster reform Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster  Will Putin sink Biden? MORE (R-Ark.), an influential conservative and possible contender for the White House in 2024, says the Senate lacks constitutional authority to hold an impeachment trial for President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE once he leaves office.

“The Senate lacks constitutional authority to conduct impeachment proceedings against a former president. The Founders designed the impeachment process as a way to remove officeholders from public office — not an inquest against private citizens,” Cotton said in a statement Wednesday evening.

Cotton’s rationale for not voting to convict Trump once he leaves office will likely become political cover for other GOP senators to vote against a House-passed article of impeachment, even if they think Trump might have committed impeachable offenses.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellNAACP president presses senators on voting rights: 'You will decide who defines America' Sununu says he skipped Senate bid to avoid being 'roadblock' to Biden for two years 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act MORE (R-Ky.) announced earlier Wednesday that Trump’s second impeachment trial will not begin until after the Senate returns from a recess scheduled to end on Jan. 19. That means the soonest the trial could begin would be 1 p.m. Jan. 20, the same day President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenMadame Tussauds unveils new Biden and Harris figures US raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden's diplomats MORE is sworn-in.

“Given the rules, procedures, and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before President-elect Biden is sworn in next week. The Senate has held three presidential impeachment trials. They have lasted 83 days, 37 days, and 21 days respectively,” McConnell said.

Cotton in his statement Wednesday evening also argued that the Senate would not be able to conclude a trial of Trump in the next six days.

“The House has passed an article of impeachment against the president, but the Senate under its rules and precedents cannot start and conclude a fair trial before the president leaves office next week,” he said.

The House voted 232 to 197 Wednesday to impeach Trump a second time, with 10 Republican lawmakers voting in favor of the article, which charged Trump with inciting insurrection after a mob of his supporters overtook the U.S. Capitol last week.

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The article charges Trump with having “repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud” and incited a crowd that “unlawfully breached and vandalized the Capitol, injured and killed law enforcement personnel” and “menaced members of Congress.”

Cotton condemned the violence and said rioters should be fully prosecuted.

“'There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.’ Those words are as true today as when Abraham Lincoln spoke them. As I said last summer when mob violence gripped our streets, so I say again about the mob violence at our nation’s Capitol last week: those persons responsible should be held accountable in the courts to the full extent of the law,” he said.

But the Arkansas lawmaker said, “Fidelity to the Constitution must always remain the lodestar of our nation.”

“Last week, I opposed the effort to reject certified electoral votes for the same reason — fidelity to the Constitution — I now oppose impeachment proceedings against a former president,” Cotton said.