x
Breaking News
More () »

Sen. Susan Collins responds to constitutionality of impeaching a president no longer in office

Collins was among six Senate Republicans to vote with Democrats that the impeachment trial is constitutional.

WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — On the third day of former President Donald Trump's historic second impeachment trial, Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins released an official statement to NEWS CENTER Maine following a request for comment, explaining her vote Tuesday siding with Democrats that the trial is constitutional.

The deeply divided Senate was tasked with voting on whether the Senate has constitutional jurisdiction to impeach Trump now that he is no longer in office.

After more than four hours of debate between Democratic House Impeachment Managers and the Trump defense, the Senate voted 56-44 that the trial is constitutional. Six Republicans broke with their party and sided with Democrats, including Collins

Immediately following the vote Tuesday night, Collins told NBC News correspondent Garrett Haake that she thought "it was very strange that the first attorney for the President did not make any arguments."

RELATED: Collins, among 6 Senate Republicans, votes Trump impeachment trial is constitutional

In her statement Thursday, Collins explained her decision, citing the text of the Constitution itself. 

"The impeachment process is described in Article I, which delineates the respective powers of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Section 2 plainly states that the House ‘shall have the sole power of impeachment.’ In this matter, there is no dispute that impeachment occurred before former President Trump’s term expired and, therefore, there is no dispute that the House had jurisdiction to impeach him," Collins said. 

She continued to note that Section 3 of Article 1 says that "the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments." 

"As former federal Circuit Court Judge Michael McConnell has observed, the keyword here is ‘all.' Sections 2 and 3 read together lead to the inescapable conclusion that if the House presents the Senate with a valid impeachment article, the Senate has jurisdiction to conduct the trial," she explained.

Collins notes that some have argued that such an interpretation would put all former presidents, vice presidents, and officeholders dating back to the Washington Administration at risk of being impeached and convicted.

"But the facts in this matter do not require such a sweeping conclusion," she said. "By asserting its jurisdiction over this trial, the Senate is simply ruling that a president who was impeached while still in office can be tried after he is no longer in office. Nothing more."

The defense argued that because former Trump cannot be removed from office, the Constitution requires he not be tried. 

"But Article I, Section 4, authorizes the Senate to impose the penalty of permanent disqualification from holding office in the future if it chooses to do so," Collins said. "And, notably, a vote on whether or not to disqualify can only be taken after conviction, at which point any defendant would have been removed and no longer an officeholder."

“If the defense’s argument were to be followed to its logical conclusion, it would lead to a constitutional absurdity -- the Senate would have the sole power to apply the disqualification penalty, but it would never have jurisdiction to do so. If the Senate were unable to consider disqualification after a president is no longer in office, the second penalty would lose its meaning.  A more sensible reading of Article I, Section 4, is that both punishments – removal and disqualification – are equally significant, and therefore the Senate has jurisdiction in this matter," Collins concluded. 

The six Republicans who voted the trial is constitutional were:

  • Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine
  • Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
  • Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah
  • Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
  • Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

Maine Independent Sen. Angus King also voted "yea" that the trial is constitutional.

The vote Tuesday allowed the trial to proceed as scheduled, kicking off two days of arguments. Trump's lawyers will launch their defense by the week's end. 

RELATED: WATCH LIVE: Chilling riot video becomes key exhibit in Trump impeachment trial

Collins has maintained that she will not comment on impeachment.

“[W]e won't have any further comment on impeachment because of the Senate's constitutional role in those proceedings, which includes sitting as a jury,” Collins’ Communications Director Annie Clark previously said in a statement on Jan. 10.

--

Collins' full statement: 

“While the Constitution does not explicitly address Congress’s jurisdiction when the subject of impeachment is a former president – or any former officer – its text and purpose as applied to the facts in this matter support the conclusion that the trial should proceed.

The question of Senate jurisdiction should start with the text of the Constitution itself.  The impeachment process is described in Article I, which delineates the respective powers of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Section 2 plainly states that the House ‘shall have the sole power of impeachment.’ In this matter, there is no dispute that impeachment occurred before former President Trump’s term expired and, therefore, there is no dispute that the House had jurisdiction to impeach him.

What is at issue is whether the impeachment trial can occur in the Senate now that former President Trump is no longer in office.  Again, I look to the text of Article I. Section 3 states that ‘the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.’  As former federal Circuit Court Judge Michael McConnell has observed, the keyword here is ‘all.’  Sections 2 and 3 read together lead to the inescapable conclusion that if the House presents the Senate with a valid impeachment article, the Senate has jurisdiction to conduct the trial.

Some have argued that such an interpretation would put all former presidents, vice presidents, and officeholders dating back to the Washington Administration at risk of being impeached and convicted.  But the facts in this matter do not require such a sweeping conclusion.  By asserting its jurisdiction over this trial, the Senate is simply ruling that a president who was impeached while still in office can be tried after he is no longer in office. Nothing more.

The former President’s attorneys argue that the Senate does not have jurisdiction to conduct a trial because the penalty prescribed for conviction under Article II, Section 4, is removed from office.  Because former President Trump cannot be removed, they argue that the Constitution requires he not be tried.  But Article I, Section 4, authorizes the Senate to impose the penalty of permanent disqualification from holding office in the future if it chooses to do so.  And, notably, a vote on whether or not to disqualify can only be taken after conviction, at which point any defendant would have been removed and no longer an officeholder.

If the defense’s argument were to be followed to its logical conclusion, it would lead to a constitutional absurdity -- the Senate would have the sole power to apply the disqualification penalty, but it would never have jurisdiction to do so.  If the Senate were unable to consider disqualification after a president is no longer in office, the second penalty would lose its meaning.  A more sensible reading of Article I, Section 4, is that both punishments – removal and disqualification – are equally significant, and therefore the Senate has jurisdiction in this matter.

For all the reasons I have set forth, I believe that the Senate must exercise jurisdiction and begin its impeachment proceedings.”