David B. Magleby: President Trump must be held accountable

(House Television via AP) In this image from video, the final vote total of 232-197 to impeachment President Donald Trump over the violent siege of the Capitol, after voting on the House floor Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

President Trump’s actions in recent weeks require a response from Congress, and it should come before he leaves office on Jan. 20.

Today the House of Representatives took the first step by voting to impeach President Trump for inciting a mob to “fight” to stop a constitutional process and for pressuring the secretary of state in Georgia to rig the vote count in that state. Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should join Minority Leader Charles Schumer in bringing the Senate back into session this week to consider and vote on removing Trump from office.

I spent my entire professional life studying elections and election law. I was shocked by the language and tone of Trump’s Jan. 2 phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Ben Raffensperger. Raffensperger, a conservative Republican, deserves respect for standing up to coercion from Trump, who urged him to “find 11,780” more votes for the Trump/Pence ticket, allowing Trump to claim Georgia’s electoral votes. Listening to the recording of the call was chilling in Trump’s use of pressure, his threats of legal action and his fabrications.

The actions of the president in his call to Raffensperger constitute an impeachable offense. Trump violated both federal and Georgia law by entreating Raffensperger to engage in election fraud. Trump, and those who continue to promulgate his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, have done serious damage to our republic, and instigated the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The idea that Congress should object to the electoral vote of Arizona, Pennsylvania or any other state in 2020 is political gamesmanship. All of the issues about fraud and voting process were raised by the Trump legal team in court cases at the state and federal levels and resoundingly rejected. Experts in election administration found no evidence of substantial voter fraud. Rather, election officials deserve our praise for conducting the 2020 election as well as they did under the extraordinary circumstances. The voters also deserve praise for the record levels of turnout in 2020.

Those who objected to the vote count last Wednesday helped set the stage for the seditious scene that unfolded. The congressional vote to challenge the electoral votes cast in 2020 should long be remembered as the culmination of demonstrable lies and false conspiracy theories and not the actions of responsible elected officials.

We should remember those who have promulgated these specious claims and engaged in this incendiary political theater, including Utah’s own Attorney General Sean Reyes, Rep. Burgess Owens and Rep. Chris Stuart. Sadly, what we observed in the actions by the objectors was driven by blind partisanship, personal ambition, some media enablers and a president who repeatedly lies. To his credit, Sen. Mitt Romney captured this realty when he emphasized the importance of elected officials telling the truth. He received applause from the assembled Senate, something quite rare in that chamber.

Trump’s most recent offenses now also include what transpired on Jan. 6. He incited thousands of followers who believed his baseless claims of a rigged election and came to Washington, saying “be there, will be wild.” He encouraged acts of sedition and domestic terrorism when he enjoined his follows to “fight,” not show “weakness” in “taking back our country,” and to march on the U.S. Capitol.

Before Trump uttered these words to the crowd, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani called for “trial by combat” in order to win the election, and Donald Trump Jr. warned Republicans not siding with his father that “We’re coming for you.” Both Trumps and Guiliani thus incited a riot, breaking numerous laws.

Like many Americans, I was deeply saddened to see the destruction and violence perpetrated by the Trump terrorists. I worked for a time for the Senate majority leader and cherish my memories of being in that magnificent citadel of our democracy. On the occasions when I have been in the Capitol I have had a sense of awe, this was especially the case when I was able to be on the Senate floor.

To see windows smashed, doors knocked down, members of the Capitol Police assaulted and the criminals occupying the offices and desks of elected leaders of our nation is deeply troubling to me and an image none of us should never forget. Clearly those responsible for these awful deeds should be identified and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The question before the nation now is what can be done now to indicate that Trump’s actions during his last weeks in office is not acceptable. His offenses are impeachable, and the House has taken that action. Now it is time for the Senate to exercise its constitutional duty.

The 25th Amendment allows for the removal of a president who is unable to fulfill his duties, but Vice President Mike Pence and the requisite number of cabinet officers have not acted.

Congress could also vote to censure Trump. The power to censure is rarely used by Congress and only once against a president. Congress censured Andrew Jackson for failing to comply with a request for documents. Congress censured Sen. Joe McCarthy in 1954 for his abuse of power and having brought Congress into disrepute. If the House and Senate do not remove Trump from office through impeachment they must censure him.

The time has come to hold President Trump accountable.

David Magleby, professor of political science, emeritus, and former dean of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences, Brigham Young University June 22, 2010 Photo by Kylea Knecht/BYU Copyright BYU Photo 2010 All Rights Reserved photo@byu.edu (801)422-7322

David Magleby, Provo, is a distinguished professor of political science, emeritus, at Brigham Young University and formerly the dean of the College of Family, Home and Social Sciences.