Majority Leader Schumer Floor Remarks On The Upcoming Impeachment Trial Of Former President Donald Trump

January 25, 2021

Washington, D.C.   Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor regarding the upcoming timely and fair impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Senator Schumer laid out the historical precedent for the trial of a former official and explained the need to hold former President Trump accountable. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:

As I announced on Friday, the Republican Leader and I have come to an initial agreement about the timing of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. This evening, managers, appointed by the House of Representatives, will deliver to the Senate the Article of Impeachment and will read the Article here in the well of this chamber. Tomorrow, Senators will be sworn in as judges and jurors in the impending trial, and the Senate will issue its summons to former President Trump. 

After that, both the House Managers and the former president’s counsel will have a period of time to draft their legal briefs, just as they did in previous trials. Once the briefs are drafted, presentations by the parties will commence the week of February 8th.

I want to thank the Republican Leader for working with us to reach this agreement, which we believe is fair to both sides and will enable the Senate to conduct a timely and fair trial on the Article of Impeachment.

This schedule will also allow us to continue the important work of the people, including confirming more members of President Biden’s Cabinet.

But I want to be very clear about that last point: the Senate will conduct a timely and fair trial. I want to be very clear about that because some of my Republican colleagues have latched onto a fringe legal theory that the Senate does not have the constitutional power to hold a trial because Donald Trump is no longer in office.

This argument has been roundly debunked by constitutional scholars from the left, right and center. It defies precedent, historic practice, and basic common sense.

It makes no sense whatsoever that a president—or any official—could commit a heinous crime against our country and then defeat Congress’ impeachment powers by simply resigning, so as to avoid accountability and a vote to disqualify them from future office.

This isn’t merely a hypothetical situation, Madam President. In 1876, President Grant’s Secretary of War, William Belknap, implicated in a corruption scheme, literally raced to the White House to tender his resignation mere minutes before the House was set to vote on his impeachment. Then, as a matter of historical record, he burst into tears.

Not only did the House move forward with five impeachment articles against him, but a trial was convened in the Senate. Of course, the question came up as to whether the Senate could try former officials. And guess what? The Senate voted, as a chamber, that Mr. Belknap could be tried “for acts done as Secretary of War, notwithstanding his resignation of said office.” Those are words the Senate voted on in 1876.

Now, Mr. Belknap was ultimately acquitted. But the record is clear: the Senate decided it had the power to try former officials. And the reasons are obvious.

A president, or any official, could, for example, wait until their final two weeks in office to betray their country knowing that they could escape accountability—or merely resign moments before the Senate decides to convict and disqualify them from future office. The theory that the Senate can’t try former officials would amount to a constitutional get-out-of-jail-free card for any president who commits an impeachable offense.

Now, it is certainly appropriate for the Senate to take the resignation of an official into account. After all, the House decided not to impeach Richard Nixon because, in that sense, Nixon took some responsibility for his actions. But to state the obvious, President Trump did not resign. He has not demonstrated remorse. He has not even acknowledged his role in the events of January 6th. And he has never disavowed the lies that were fed to the American people, by him, about who actually won the election.

Just to put a final nail into the coffin of this ridiculous theory, I’d remind my colleagues: if a president is convicted on an article of impeachment, the Senate holds a separate vote on whether to bar them from future office. Once a president is convicted of an impeachment charge, they are removed from office—in other words, they become a former official. If we are to believe that the Senate can’t hold former officials to account, then the Senate could never proceed to that second vote on disqualification, which is provided for in the Constitution, even for a sitting president.

In saying this, I am expressing the view of legal scholars across the political spectrum. Steve Vladeck, a prominent constitutional expert at the University of Texas, wrote in the New York Times that Donald Trump is the “poster child” for why the conviction of an ex-president is “not just constitutionally permissible, but necessary.” More than 150 legal scholars signed a letter last week forcefully stating that an impeachment trial of a former president is constitutional. Among the signatories: one of the co-founders of the Federalist Society, as well as one of President Reagan’s Solicitors General, among other prominent conservatives.

It is so obviously wrong to suggest that impeaching a former president is unconstitutional. So why are some suggesting it?

Well, there seems to be a desire on the political right to avoid passing judgment, one way or the other, on former President Trump and his role in fomenting the despicable attack on the Capitol on January 6th. There seems to be some hope that Republicans could oppose the former president’s impeachment on process grounds, rather than grappling with his actual awful conduct.

Let me be very clear: this is not going to fly. The trial is going to happen. It is certainly and clearly constitutional. And if the former president is convicted, there will be a vote to disqualify him from future office.

There is only one question at stake. Only one question that Senators of both parties will have to answer, before God and their own conscience: is former President Trump guilty of inciting an insurrection against the United States?

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