Nothing terrifies Donald Trump quite so much as the “I” word.
Day after day, Trump has been griping and grousing and tweeting his frustration with the lively discussions that have developed about everything from the Nixonian nature of his foul-mouthed tirades to the striking similarities between his own abuses of power and the many obstructions of justice that led the House Judiciary Committee to approve articles of impeachment against the 37th president.
On Wednesday, Trump threw a Twitter tantrum.
Tweet after tweet bemoaned his circumstance:
“Congress has no time to legislate, they only want to continue the Witch Hunt, which I have already won.”
“This was a Rigged System.”
“Mueller Angry Dems…”
“No Collusion, No Obstruction.”
Even as he was announcing that “we’re fighting all the subpoenas” from congressional committees, Trump was ranting about how “there has NEVER been a President who has been more transparent.”
The tragedy of this presidency at this point is that, in addition to the troubles created by the report from special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump is plagued by his own ignorance.
The most constitutionally ill-informed president in history tweeted on Wednesday that “The Mueller Report, despite being written by Angry Democrats and Trump Haters, and with unlimited money behind it ($35,000,000), didn’t lay a glove on me. I DID NOTHING WRONG. If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Good luck with that.
The US House of Representatives, not the Supreme Court, impeaches presidents. If a majority of House members endorses an article of impeachment against a sitting president, the case proceeds to the Senate for a trial. Senators consider the evidence, debate, and then vote on whether the president will be removed.
This is all spelled out in plain English by the US Constitution, which announces in Article I, Section 2, that “The House of Representatives shall [choose] their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
Trump may want to read that line differently from how it was intended by the founders of the American experiment. But if precedent still stands for anything, he is unlikely to get any help from the Supreme Court. The court took this issue up in the 1993 case of Nixon v. United States, 506 US 224. Walter Louis Nixon Jr., a former judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, had been impeached by the House and removed by the Senate in 1989. Judge Nixon raised objections to how his Senate trail had been handled.
The Supreme Court determined, unanimously, that the Constitution was clear and that the power to organize and carry out the impeachment process was situated in the Congress and “nowhere else.”
As Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe suggests, it’s “idiocy” to claim otherwise because, of course, presidents nominate justices to serve on the Supreme Court. Two members of the current court owe their status to Donald Trump. And even Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh would have a hard time finding a way to reinterpret the term “sole power.” (No less a legal whiz than Kavanaugh has explained that “If the president does something dastardly, the impeachment process is available. No single prosecutor, judge or jury should be able to accomplish what the Constitution assigns to the Congress.”)
The president has his own lawyers. But on the question of whether the high court can be drawn into impeachment matters, he would do well to listen to Tribe when the professor explains: “That’s not how it works.”
John Nichols authored the foreword to the book The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump (Melville House), by Ron Fein, John Bonifaz, and Ben Clements.