Originally Published in the Opinion Column of Register-Guard (January 11, 2021)
President Donald Trump’s drive to overturn the 2020 election and maintain power, abetted at critical junctures by people who damn well know better, must be stopped.
His actions on Wednesday justify his immediate removal from office by the Cabinet and Vice President Mike Pence. They need now only to muster a modicum of courage to invoke the 25th Amendment, given Trump’s manifest display of moral and psychological unfitness.
If they cannot, then Trump should be impeached (again) by the House of Representatives, and then convicted by the Senate, pursuant to Article 1 of the Constitution, and removed, without delay.
Moreover, if we are to remain a nation of laws, then Trump must be prosecuted for his manifest crimes. Thus, Trump’s recent call to Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, demanding that he “find” another 11,780 votes, and thus “flip” the presidential vote to him, clearly amounted to criminal solicitation to commit election fraud under GA Code § 21-2-604 and an attempt to deprive residents of a fair and impartially conducted election process under 52 U.S. Code § 20511.
But on Wednesday Trump graduated to sedition, whipping to a fever thousands of loyalists that, over the prior weeks, he helped summon to Washington D.C. expressly to “take back our country.” At a noon rally, he urged that crowd never to give up, never concede and to march on Congress to show its strength and disrupt Congress’ count of electoral votes. The crowd responded, and that is how a president unleashed a mob on an inadequately protected coordinate branch of government. For this Trump is subject to 18 U.S. Code § 2385, willfully advocating overthrow of the government, among other offenses.
Even before Wednesday’s melee, all surviving former secretaries of defense had publicly warned the Pentagon’s present truncated leadership to “refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder(s) the success of the new team.”
At the time I thought they had in mind Trump’s recent provocations of Iran on the anniversary of the U.S. assassination of its military leader, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, and the potential that the unstable Trump might seek to escalate the situation into a full-blown international crisis in order to divert public attention from his abject failures to date to overturn the 2020 election.
But the defense secretaries might also have been considering the possibility that Trump could try to impose martial law here at home, in advance of Joe Biden’s inauguration. Trump had, after all, recently discussed the option with admitted felon Michael Flynn.
Flynn had been Trump’s first national security adviser, but he soon resigned when it was revealed that he had secretly worked for Turkey during the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. He later pled guilty to lying to the FBI regarding his conversations with Russia’s ambassador. However, Flynn ultimately served no time because early last year then-Attorney General William Barr demanded a Justice Department review of its initial prosecution. Inordinately complex appellate litigation followed, with Trump jumping into the fray by pardoning Flynn just six weeks ago. The federal district court then dismissed the case as moot. Flynn apparently sought to repay the favor by proffering to Trump a way to simply dispense with the rule of law and pesky constitutional principles altogether.
No one knows Trump’s next major move. But bolstered by only a few thousand of his supporters, Trump was able to terrorize Congress for a few hours. Last-minute action by an otherwise undermanned Capitol police force prevented a more complete calamity so that only five people died from the maelstrom, while and a sobered Congress was able return Wednesday night to finish its state electorate certification and declare Biden the president-elect.
In the wake of criticism even by heretofore servile Republicans in Congress, Trump on Thursday night issued a scripted message renouncing the lawless attack but without a hint as to his central role in it and adding in a remark directed solely to his “wonderful supporters,” that their “incredible journey is only just beginning.”
It is difficult to accept that a substantial minority of voters supported this criminal psychopath — twice. Thankfully, this time, they failed, but the embittered Trump still retains enormous capacity to punish the nation over the next two weeks and, if set loose in civil society, over the next four years.
Federal and state officials need to exercise the full measure of their remaining authority to remove Trump from office now, and then prosecute him to the full extent of the law, so as to protect our fragile democracy.