Opinion

Trump’s Threat to Schiff and Pelosi: Impeach Them (Can’t Happen), Sue Them (Even Though It’s Frivolous)

We’ve reached the point at which our president is comfortable spouting utter nonsense, completely untethered from legal and governmental reality.

In early October, Rudy Giuliani started going off about how Donald Trump should sue individual members of Congress in retaliation for their having opened an impeachment inquiry. Now, it appears that Trump is ready to go with Rudy’s suggestion (which might not be a great idea right now). And he’s not just going to litigate; he’s going to up the ante on frivolous lawsuits, and even invent legal actions that aren’t real.

On Saturday night, Trump spoke at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., where he made some statements that ranged from the foolish to the alarming.

First, POTUS threatened to sue Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), saying, “We’re going to take a look at it. We’re going after these people. These are bad, bad people.” No mention of the fact that members of Congress are immune from civil liability for any official government business, no mention of who “we” might mean. Giuliani has been out there, attempting to characterize congressional oversight as criminal conspiracy, but no one is really buying that either.

The idea that an “unfair” presidential impeachment is like some kind of malicious prosecution is just silly. Impeachments are political tools, with political – and not criminal– consequences. Neither Donald Trump nor anyone else has the legal right to continue as president if Congress votes otherwise. That’s a cold truth that Trump needs to snuggle up to sometime soon.

Transcending inane and moving toward illegal, Trump also told the crowd about Schiff, “Sue him anyway, even if we lose, the American public will understand.”

This is a statement that should stop every American in their tracks. Our president is so comfortable using our legal system as his own personal artillery that he genuinely believes the general public would agree that he should intimidate high-ranking government officials by threatening them with frivolous lawsuits.

I’m interested to know who, exactly, will sign their names to such a lawsuit. Attorneys are bound by legal and ethical obligations to bring only those lawsuits they reasonably believe have merit. Baseless lawsuits filed for the purpose of causing nuisance and scandal are illegal – and attorneys who file them risk losing their licenses to practice.

The crown jewel of Trump’s speech, though, was this:

“And sue Nancy Pelosi. Or maybe we should just impeach them, because they’re lying and what they’re doing is a terrible thing for our country.”

This statement is in equal parts laughable and terrifying. One would think that a sitting president facing (imminent) impeachment would have done a modicum of research. I don’t mean I expected Trump to become a constitutional scholar – just that he peruse Impeachment for Dummies or a Buzzfeed list. If he had, he’d have learned that impeachment is only a remedy to oust a malfeasant President, Vice President, or “civil officer” of the United States. While the Constitution is unclear about precisely which executive branch officials are impeachable as “civil officers,” we’re well-settled that the phrase does not include members of Congress.

That’s not to say that members of Congress cannot be removed for cause. Voters cannot recall a member of Congress simply because they no longer like that representative – but Congress does have the power to oust one of its own.

The House or Senate can expel a member, provided there’s a two-thirds vote of its respective members to do so. Like presidential impeachment, there is no specific underlying reason required for expulsion of members of Congress. Across American history, Congress has expelled 20 of its own members  – generally for the commission of a crime or disloyalty to the United States.

If you’re thinking “wow, so Congress gets to police itself?” you’re beginning to get the point. That’s why we had the American Revolution. Giving the majority of power “to the people” was sort of a thing. The American people (theoretically) speak through their elected representatives, and if one steps badly out of line, the others are there to represent the people’s interests.

Saturday night wasn’t the first time Trump attempted to wield impeachment threats toward members of Congress. He recently hash-tagged #IMPEACHMITTROMNEY as well.

Many of us have been in impeachment watch for a while now. I think it’s time for our president catch up.

[Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. She is a frequent media contributor, and is Of Counsel to Smedley & Lis, in Woodbury, New Jersey. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos

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