Beyond impeachment: Congress must not reward Trump's misconduct

Beyond impeachment: Congress must not reward Trump's misconduct
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The House has voted a second time to impeach President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE — this time on a bipartisan basis for inciting a mob to lay siege to the U.S. Capitol. It remains uncertain when the Senate will take up the resolution and even less clear if two-thirds of its members would vote to convict, which would bar Trump from seeking federal office in the future.

But there are three important and well-justified steps Congress should take that will punish the outgoing president and prevent him from bleeding taxpayers and potentially jeopardizing national security during his post-presidency. Each could be achieved through a simple act of Congress that, by all rights, should receive overwhelming bipartisan support.

Cancel Trump’s pension. Like all former presidents, Trump becomes eligible for a pension immediately upon leaving office. Taxpayers will begin footing a bill of $219,200 a year for the rest of his life, more than three times the income of the average American. That is a particularly generous annuity for someone who paid virtually no income taxes for most of his life. Why should the taxes of hardworking Americans underwrite a self-professed billionaire given his behavior that, at a minimum, has bordered on sedition?

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Terminate Trump’s Secret Service protection. Trump will enjoy lifetime protection by the Secret Service, as will his wife and minor child. Even without the controversy incessantly swirling around him due to his political activities, Trump may well require personal security given the strong sentiments his divisive tenure has engendered. But the wealthiest former president in history hardly needs taxpayers to foot a bill that would run to hundreds of thousands of dollars a month, if not more, to provide for his round-the-clock safety. Like other prominent and wealthy people who are potential targets for criminal activity, Trump would surely pay for personal security protection even if he never had served as president. Let’s let him do so. Providing government agents as security for Trump is particularly galling given his encouragement of a violent mob that assaulted congressional police at the Capitol, resulting in one officer’s death and numerous serious injuries.

Eliminate national security briefings. As a courtesy, former presidents are permanently provided briefings on classified national security information after leaving office. The briefings are predicated on the idea former chief executives should remain informed if called upon in his retirement to offer sage advice to his successors. It is safe to assume that neither President Biden nor any other Trump successor is likely to solicit his insights into matters of national security. Nor should Trump, who has repeatedly demonstrated an alarming affection for totalitarian dictators, be entrusted with classified information that he might be tempted (or blackmailed) into sharing with America’s adversaries. Biden could direct the CIA and other agencies not to brief Trump, but Congress should establish the principle as a matter of law so no future president restores the briefings. 

Neither Trump nor any former president is entitled to a lifelong pension, permanent security protection or access to classified security information. The American people extend these privileges as a matter of respect for a former leader’s service to the nation. But just as members of the military, of Congress and of private companies are denied pension and other retirement benefits when their conduct violates the law and recognized norms, so too should Trump be sanctioned.

Congress may not choose to remove Trump within the next week, but it has the power to assure he will not enjoy lifetime benefits that should be restricted to those who have served the nation with honor.

John A. Lawrence, former chief of staff to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is the author of “The Class of ’74: Congress After Watergate and the Roots of Partisanship” and a visiting professor at the University of California’s Washington Center. Follow him on Twittter @JohnALawrenceDC.