Donald Trump’s defense team insists that the conviction of an impeached former president is unconstitutional. Now I’m neither a lawyer nor a constitutional scholar, but I can read plain English and follow simple logic. And applying those basic skills, I see nowhere in the Constitution that says a former president cannot be impeached, convicted and disqualified from future office.
Let’s look at the text (as conservatives are fond of doing). Article 1 says that the House “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” and the Senate “shall have the sole Power to try all impeachments.” Nothing there excludes trying an impeached former president.
What about punishment? Article 1 says it “shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification.” Article 4 adds that, if impeached and convicted, the “President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office” and shall remain “liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”
What does it mean? Simply that punishment for conviction can be no more than removal or disqualification … that Senate-convicted officials may still have civil or criminal liability for their actions (eliminating any “double jeopardy” claims) … and that the punishment of current office holders must be no less than removal.
Read the text and follow the logic: No more than removal and/or disqualification if convicted, and no less than removal if still holding office.
No more … and no less … and nothing else. There is no constitutional “off-ramp” to an acquittal. The Senate cannot fine Donald Trump or send him to prison, but it may convict and disqualify him from a return trip to the White House. That’s what the Constitution says. Plain and simple.
Nelson Checkoway is an award-winning copywriter and the principal of Rising Tide Direct, a fundraising agency for non-profit organizations.