Speed Reads

impeachment round 2

Democrats argue 1876 case is 'clear precedent' for impeaching Trump post-presidency

The 1876 impeachment of William Belknap, who served as secretary of war under former President Ulysses S. Grant, provides a "clear precedent" for trying former President Donald Trump in the Senate, Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), a House impeachment manager, argued Tuesday during a debate over the constitutionality of Trump's second impeachment.

Neguse explained to the Senate that Belknap, who was "involved in a massive kickback scheme," rushed to the White House before his wrongdoing became public to resign so he could "avoid any further inquiry into his misconduct and ... to avoid being disqualified from holding federal office in the future." But the House moved forward and unanimously impeached, anyway.

Then, when his case reached the Senate, Neguse said, Belknap "made the exact same argument" Trump, his legal team, and many GOP senators have made — that the upper chamber lacks the power to try a former official. In 1876, though, Neguse continued, lawmakers were "outraged" at the suggestion. "They knew it was a dangerous, dangerous argument with dangerous implications," Neguse said. "It would literally mean that a president could betray their country, leave office, and avoid impeachment and disqualification entirely."

The Senate then "decisively voted" that the Constitution required them to hold the trial. Neguse clarified that the Senate ultimately acquitted Belknap, but "only after a thorough, public inquiry." Read more about Belknap's trial. Tim O'Donnell