Jan. 6 was a shameful day. A mob bloodied law enforcement and besieged the first branch of government. American citizens tried to use terrorism to stop a democratic proceeding they disliked.
There is no question former President Trump bears moral responsibility. His supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world’s largest megaphone. His behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike Pence during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended.
I was as outraged as any member of Congress. But senators take our own oaths. Our job wasn’t to find some way, any way, to inflict a punishment. The Senate’s first and foundational duty was to protect the Constitution.
Some brilliant scholars believe the Senate can try and convict former officers. Others don’t. The text is unclear, and I don’t begrudge my colleagues their own conclusions. But after intense study, I concluded that Article II, Section 4 limits impeachment and conviction to current officers.
Everyone agrees that “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” exhaust the valid grounds for conviction. It follows that the list of persons in that sentence—“the president, vice president, and all civil officers”—likewise exhausts its valid subjects.