Republican Attorneys General Push Back Against Impeachment Trial

January 22, 2020 Updated: January 22, 2020

The Republican attorneys general for 21 states called on the Senate on Jan. 22 to reject the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump as constitutionally flawed, warning that doing otherwise would create a “dangerous historical precedent” and “erode the separation of powers” between the executive and legislative branches.

In a 14-page letter (pdf), the attorneys general framed the articles of impeachment as the product of a partisan process meant to undo the results of the 2016 presidential election and influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

“If successful, an impeachment proceeding nullifies the votes of millions of citizens. The Democrat-controlled House passing of these constitutionally-deficient articles of impeachment amounts, at bottom, to a partisan political effort that undermines the democratic process itself,” the letter states.

“Even an unsuccessful effort to impeach the President undermines the integrity of the 2020 presidential election because it weaponizes a process that should only be initiated in exceedingly rare circumstances and should never be used for partisan purposes.”

House lawmakers voted along party lines to approve two articles of impeachment against the president late last year. Every Republican opposed the measure; two Democrats broke ranks with their party against both articles, while a third Democrat voted for one impeachment article.

In the first article, the Democrats allege the president abused the power of his office by pressuring the leader of Ukraine to open investigations into his political rivals, including former vice president and Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden. The second article accuses the president of obstructing Congress by defying requests from Democrats who opened an inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine.

The Republican state attorneys general argue that the “abuse of power” charge approved by the Democrats is “infinitely expansive and subjective,” because it relies on the vague allegation that Trump acted for a “corrupt purpose.” They say the article essentially charges the president with taking a lawful action for a corrupt purpose, which the Democrats defined as “personal political benefit.”

“The President, in other words, is being impeached for political thought crime,” the letter states.

“The threat such a limitless concept poses to the most fundamental principles of our system of government are [sic] plain. It cannot be a legitimate basis to impeach a President for acting in a legal manner that may also be politically advantageous. Such a standard would be cause for the impeachment of virtually every President, past, present, and future.”

The attorneys general say that the second article is “equally flawed,” arguing that it shouldn’t be permissible to impeach a president who seeks to protect the executive privilege against an overreach by a partisan legislative majority.

“If the House can impeach a President for invoking executive privilege, the privilege is meaningless because it is under unilateral control of the House,” the letter states.

The arguments by the attorneys general mirrored some of those put forth by the president’s attorney during the first day of the Senate trial. The Democratic House impeachment managers have rebutted the arguments, calling Trump’s conduct, as alleged in the abuse-of-power article, the framers’ “worst nightmare.” In responding to the criticism of the obstruction charge, Democrats say that the House’s power to impeach would be permanently weakened if the president could get away with denying document and witness requests.

Ivan Eland, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, told The Epoch Times that the Democrats had no choice but to impeach Trump for obstructing Congress because Trump’s refusals to cooperate with the inquiry impeded the House from conducting its oversight duties. According to Eland, the power of the executive branch has expanded since the Roosevelt era, setting up for the current clash between the White House and congressional Democrats.

“He has blatantly said that he is not cooperating and that’s a problem from the constitutional view,” Eland said. “We are at a place where we have unprecedented executive power, so if anything the Democrats are right in this that the article two of the impeachment is the most important one.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Jan. 22 that Trump rightly blocked requests to question his top advisors to protect the office of the presidency.

“If you blow through these privileges because you want to impeach the president before the election, and you come to the Senate and you ask me to destroy the privilege, forget it. I’m not going to reward this kind of behavior.”

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