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U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado told jurors in former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Tuesday that they have the authority and a duty under the Constitution to convict Trump and prohibit him from seeking elected office again.
“If Congress were to stand completely aside in the face of such an extraordinary crime against the republic, it would invite future presidents to use their power without any fear of accountability. None of us, no matter our party or our politics, wants that,” said the Democrat from Lafayette, one of nine House impeachment managers — or prosecutors — in the trial.
Neguse was the second of the impeachment managers to speak on the opening day of Trump’s second impeachment trial — a day set aside for debate over whether such a trial is constitutional. Trump’s lawyers have argued a former president cannot be impeached and convicted by the Senate, only sitting presidents can.
“The purpose of impeachment is to remove someone from office, and unequivocally, this impeachment trial is not about removing someone from office, as Mr. Trump left office on January 20, 2021,” the former president’s lawyers wrote in a brief this week. “He is now, both factually and legally, a private citizen.”
Tuesday afternoon, senators will vote on whether a trial of Trump is constitutional. If a majority agrees it is not, the proceedings will end. If a majority agrees it is constitutional, arguments will continue Wednesday, when Neguse, DeGette and other impeachment managers will continue making the case that Trump committed the high crime or misdemeanor of inciting an insurrection.
The impeachment managers will have 16 hours to argue Trump incited a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to overturn the presidential election results. Trump’s attorneys will then have 16 hours to defend the former president. Senators could vote to acquit or convict Trump as early as this weekend. The House impeached the former president Jan. 13.
“Whether the impeachment trial is unconstitutional because it is brought too late is an undetermined matter,” said Rob Natelson, a constitutional law expert with the conservative Independence Institute. “We don’t know the answer to that. The evidence cuts both ways.”
“I believe the impeachment is unconstitutional because the article of impeachment does not allege a crime … you have to demonstrate treason, bribery, a high crime or high misdemeanor,” he said, “all of which are, by the definitions of the Constitution, crimes.”
Neguse cited two examples of past impeachments that occurred after a public official left office as precedent that the Senate has “extremely clear” authority to try Trump — the 18th-century case of U.S. Sen. William Blount and the 19th-century case of War Secretary William Belknap.
“What you experienced that day — what we experienced that day, what our country experienced that day — is the Framers’ worst nightmare come to life,” Neguse said of Jan. 6. “Presidents can’t inflame insurrections in their final weeks and then walk away like nothing happened. And yet, that is the rule that President Trump asks you to adopt.”