Government

Ernst: Second Trump impeachment trial is not constitutional

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, arrives Jan. 27, 2020, at the Capitol in Washington during the first impeachment trial of Presi
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, arrives Jan. 27, 2020, at the Capitol in Washington during the first impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He was not convicted in the Senate. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

DES MOINES — Iowa U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said Tuesday she does not believe the second impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump is constitutional.

A nonpartisan legal analysis from a Congressional research group concluded not only is the impeachment process of a former president constitutional, but some scholars have deemed it an “essential” option.

Trump, a Republican, was impeached a second time by the Democrat-controlled U.S. House — this time for his role in inciting and failing to quell a Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol that left five dead, including a Capitol Police officer.

The impeachment trial in the Senate now is scheduled to begin the week of Feb. 8.

Ernst, also a Republican, told reporters Tuesday that after reading scholars who have presented arguments on “both sides,” she does not believe the Senate has the constitutional authority to convict a former president in an impeachment trial.

Later Tuesday, Ernst supported a motion in the Senate to dismiss the latest charges.

“I’ll continue to listen to the legal scholars and understand the pros and cons, but right now I do believe it to be unconstitutional,” Ernst said during a conference call with Iowa reporters.

Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley also voted to dismiss the impeachment charges. He said Tuesday that he believes the constitutional question remains unanswered. He said the U.S. Constitution outlines impeachment for the president or other elected officers, and does not specifically address former presidents.

“I’m not a lawyer, so it seems to me to be a reasonable argument,” Grassley said Tuesday during a conference call with Iowa reporters. “But I’m going to listen to the constitutional lawyers speak about that. … I think it’s going to be thoroughly debated (during the impeachment trial) as well, by both sides.”

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According to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, most constitutional scholars believe Congress has the authority to impeach elected officials who are no longer in office.

According to a Jan. 15 report from the Congressional Research Service: “The Constitution does not directly address whether Congress may impeach and try a former President for actions taken while in office. Though the text is open to debate, it appears that most scholars who have closely examined the question have concluded that Congress has authority to extend the impeachment process to officials who are no longer in office.”

The legal analysis also says scholars have noted if impeachment does not extend to elected officials who are no longer in office, an important aspect of impeachment — the ability to bar an individual from holding office in the future — is lost.

“If impeachment does not apply to former officials, then Congress could never bar an official from holding office in the future as long as that individual resigns first,” the analysis says. “According to one scholar, it is ‘essential’ for Congress to have authority to impeach and convict former officials in order to apply the punishment of disqualification; otherwise Congress’s jurisdiction would depend on the whims of the individual who engaged in misconduct.”

Ernst said if Trump is guilty of any crimes, he can be held accountable in the courts.

“I think it’s really important that we focus on what is our role as Congress, and what is the role of the Senate. That’s only one avenue,” Ernst said. “If the president is truly guilty of something else, we have remedies through the courts for that. So if there truly is a case there, he can still be held accountable.”

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