Pundits tell us it is now “too late” to impeach President Trump a second time. It is too close to the election. The nauseating solidarity of Senate Republicans suggests the outcome, regardless of the strength of the charges, would be the same as the first effort. The net effect, we are told, would be to put another arrow in Trump’s quiver, empowering him to both claim the outcome “exonerated” him and that he now has definitive “proof” that Democrats, the press, people of color, and China are out to get him.
Thus, while it is not likely Trump will face impeachment again before election day, it is a shame. He richly deserves it. His actions since his first impeachment are worse than those that preceded it. Since February 5, 2020, the date on which the Senate acquitted Trump, declining to remove him from office despite plentiful evidence, thousands of Americans have died because of what may meet the definition of criminal negligence, which is one way to describe Trump’s failure to prepare adequately and to respond promptly to the coronavirus.
Here is a list of charges that could serve as the basis for a fresh set of Articles of Impeachment in the House of Representatives:
Criminal negligence. Negligence is the act or omission to act where there is a duty to do so. The Presidential oath of office, which Trump took on January 20, 2017, reads, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Although reasonable people might argue that what we have seen, despite it being a dismal failure, reflects the best of Trump’s abilities, that might be a harsh comment on someone who has claimed to have a “big brain.” This article of impeachment would allege that Trump failed to execute the office of President by effectively blocking the execution of the function of the Center for Disease Control and other federal agencies in preparing for a pandemic. He also violated the constitution, which was established to promote the general welfare of Americans. Allowing thousands to die by not doing your job is not promoting the general welfare.
Simply put, the President has the best information resources in the world. This is not an accident or serendipity. The President is expected to use the resources made available to him to promote the general welfare. Trump chose not to use them, despite resources being “pushed” to him in the form of national security briefings and specific warnings from administration officials. Trump instead chose to trust his gut.
Involuntary manslaughter. This crime occurs when a person unintentionally causes a death because of reckless failure to act. That is what Trump did. He failed to contain the spread of the coronavirus by not implementing social distancing and other measures sooner despite having knowledge of the risks the virus represented.
This article of impeachment might also include a second count. Trump effectively encouraged people to ingest bleach or have it injected into their bodies. On April 23, at one of his virus briefings, Trump stated, “I see the disinfectant, that knocks it out in a minute, one minute. . .. Is there a way we can do something like that, by injection, inside, or almost a cleaning. . .. (I)t would be interesting to check that.” In fairness to the President, he also added that, “I’m not a doctor,” but added, “I’m, like, a person that has a good you-know-what.”
Importantly there do not appear to be any reports of people dying from drinking bleach directly because of Trump’s comments despite dozens having apparently tried it. Immediately following the comment, calls to poison control centers spiked. Numerous reports of people acting on the President’s comments appeared in the press in following days and would be easily verifiable. If nobody died because of the President’s reckless speculation, does that preclude the Senate convicting him on this count? Probably, but should it?
A third count might be tied to Trump’s claim that he is taking hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus. As a result, some (misguided) Americans have taken the same drug, which the FDA suggests is “dangerous” to many. Importantly, some commenters, including “Morning Joe” Scarborough of MSNBC, suggest that the germaphobe Trump would not be willing to take the risk of taking the drug given the warnings of the FDA. If Morning Joe is right, Trump is a hypocrite and a liar. Fortunately for Trump, hypocrisy is not an impeachable offense under Article II, section 4 of the Constitution.
Perjury. How can you commit perjury if you are not a sworn witness before a court or Congress? Thus, a conviction on this article of impeachment would be difficult. But it may, other than the manslaughter charge, be Trump’s worst offense. Simply put, he repeatedly lied throughout his series of comical “coronavirus task force” briefings, which were held until it became clear that they were doing him more political harm than good. Trump ended these lie-fests with a tweet on April 25th that read, “What is the purpose of having White House News Conferences when the lamestream media asks nothing but hostile questions, and then refuses to report the truth or facts accurately. They get record ratings, and the American people get nothing but Fake News. Not worth the time and effort!” Nice.
Is the impeachment clause of the constitution obsolete or unworkable given modern politics? What do you have to do to get convicted? Shoot someone on 5th Avenue?
Who knows? But the behavior of the Orange Menace should have all of us angry. Our lives and livelihood are at risk because of him. Fortunately, we have less than eight months left before voters, I hope, show him the exit door.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. He is a former counsel to the House Committee on Education and Labor. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy.