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Calls to impeach President Trump are ‘sentence first - verdict afterwards’: Scott Douglas Gerber

September 9, 2018

Calls to impeach President Trump are ‘sentence first - verdict afterwards’: Scott Douglas Gerber

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island -- The late William Raspberry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post, was one of my favorite political commentators. Ideologically, Mr. Raspberry was on the left and I am not. But I respected his talent.

I have been thinking a lot lately about one of Mr. Raspberry’s columns as the talk about impeaching President Donald Trump has been dominating the news even more than in the past (and that’s saying something). The column in question is entitled ”... In a Kangaroo Court” and it was published Dec. 4, 1998, during the imbroglio surrounding President Bill Clinton.

The column opened with the following lines: ”‘No! No!’ says the Queen of Hearts in ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.’”

Sound familiar? It does to me.

The next line in Mr. Raspberry’s 1998 column also sounds like it was written for today’s political climate: “If Lewis Carroll’s autocratic character had added, ‘And charges when we get around to them,’ he might have had the perfect summary of what’s happening in the impeachment hearings.”

But the line in Mr. Raspberry’s column that has always stuck in my mind, and the line that led me to locate and re-read the column 20 years later, is this: “If enough people with enough power want you badly enough, don’t ever bet they won’t get you.” 

That line still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. After all, all of us – every last one – does something every day that violates the law and that could be used against us if “enough people with enough power” want to get us: jaywalking; speeding; until recently, singing “Happy Birthday to You” without compensating the copyright holder for singing it. And sometimes we commit more serious offenses. 

The left has been trying to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency from the moment he was elected. Calls for President Trump’s impeachment and removal actually began before President Trump took office.

On Jan. 9, 2017, for example, Richard Cohen opined in his Washington Post column entitled “How to Remove Trump from Office” that, “One remote remedy is impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate.”

Not content to propose impeachment as the only “remedy” for President Trump’s victory in November 2016 – apparently, impeachment was too “remote” – Cohen went on to recommend utilizing the 25th Amendment, by which the vice president, together with a “majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide”, can remove the president for being “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” 

Others on the left, including but not limited to President Clinton’s former labor secretary Robert Reich and President Barack Obama’s former law school professor Laurence H. Tribe, published op-eds calling for President Trump’s impeachment less than six months after President Trump became president. Tribe has since published a book on the subject, while Reich continues to lambast the president every chance he gets.

If that weren’t bad enough, some billionaire hedge fund manager named Tom Steyer has been running TV ads since at least October 2017 advocating the impeachment of President Trump, and The New York Times recently took the unprecedented step of publishing an anonymous op-ed by a “senior official in the Trump administration” in which the anonymous author essentially admitted to participating in a coup d’état against the president of the United States. 

Many, many, many other op-eds, articles, MSNBC-TV shows, and the like could be cited to illustrate the left’s seemingly nonstop attempts to overturn the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Raspberry again proved prescient in his 1998 column: “Maybe [Rep. Henry] Hyde,” the Illinois congressman leading the charge to impeach President Clinton, “counts himself among those who ‘know’ Clinton to be so unworthy for the office to which he’s been ... elected that any legal pretext for removing him serves the cause of righteousness. Sentence first – verdict afterwards.”

Scott Douglas Gerber is a visiting professor of political theory at Brown University and a law professor at Ohio Northern University. His ninth book, the legal thriller “The Art of the Law,” will be published in October.

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