Sedition, Insurrection, And Accountability


Leonard Zwelling

The conduct of the President of the United States and his followers on January 6 was both sedition and an insurrection. Whether or not they were cause and effect is for the Senate to determine now. Many members of the House got up to say as much on January 13, a week after the riot as the chamber debated an article of impeachment that passed and was signed by the Speaker.

I am of two minds on this.

First, I think the President needs to be held accountable for his behavior since the election and particularly last week on January 6. Since he will never resign and Vice President Pence will not invoke the 25th Amendment, the only recourse for Congress is to impeach the president. That it is one week from the end of his term is of no relevance. Sure, he will be gone at noon on January 20, but he needs to be driven clear of American politics once and for all and that will necessitate impeachment, a subsequent Senate trial, and a specific Senate vote to preclude him from national service ever again. These things need to happen. But they don’t need to happen now.

On the other hand, this rapid impeachment seems foolish to me. To do this right takes time and there simply is not enough time to put together a great case and certainly not enough time for a real trial before January 20. This form of executive removal must be deliberative and what went on now in the House was anything but.

Members of the House needed to forget about getting Trump out of office before January 20. Once you do that you can be patient and build a complete case based on a thorough investigation of what happened January 6 because there is still the possibility that members of law enforcement or even members of Congress aided and abetted the mob. It is also true that this riot was planned for weeks in advance making it impossible to have been caused by the president’s speech that day.

Congress needs to slow down and even if they impeach Trump now, they ought to wait to hold the trial.

So we have to find a way to hold all those accountable for their behavior—Trump, Cruz, Hawley, Johnson and the rest of the members of the Senate and House who tried to overturn a free and fair election. All of this was sedition. The goal is not to assign blame. The goal is to rid the political system of those who would undermine it in the name of politics.

However, care must be exercised. Sure it’s legal for Twitter and Facebook to dump Trump, but it really does curtail his speech, most of which was not sedition. This is a real hard one, not legally (because these are private companies and they can make their own rules) but ethically as free speech is being pre-empted. Care must also be exercised when punishment is meted out. Personally, I would rather see most of this take place in the civil courts rather than in the House of Representatives. I am uncomfortable with punishment coming from Congress other than impeachment or censure. If the rioters will be tried in the civil and federal courts, so ought the lawmakers who may have committed sedition.

The country is at a very precarious crossroads. We must hold those accountable who incited this insurrection and tried to illegally overturn a fair election. All of that talk by Trump and his lot that somehow the election was rigged or stolen must be taken into account and a determination made of the legality of the behavior. But we don’t want to rush to judgment either. Just because everyone on the Democratic side and some Republicans voted to impeach doesn’t mean this rapid decision was a good one. The Constitution puts neither the proximity of the President’s crimes nor the proximity of Congress’ reaction to them on a time line with respect to the end of the President’s term.

Congress needs to take its time. It needs to wait for the FBI’s investigation of the Capitol Police and the members of the House with regard to aiding and abetting the rioters. Everyone needs to take a deep breath. The Republicans who say impeachment is too divisive and now is the time to heal should have thought of that for the past four years when they were backing Trump’s shenanigans. There is a lot of bad behavior that must be taken into account. It can be done slowly. But it must be done.

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