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Editorial: Even Trump merits due process and fair trial

The Detroit News  |  The Detroit News

Congress is expected Wednesday to vote on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump in a hurry-up process unbefitting such a serious matter.

Given the gravitas of the situation, it should be handled fairly and not rushed through.

Realistically, to meet that standard the proceedings will spill over into the next presidency. And while there is precedent for that with other federal officials, it would be new territory as it relates to a president. 

If Congress is intent on impeaching Trump to assure he can never run for office again, they should seek a legal opinion on whether the Constitution allows such an action against a departed president.

Then it can set a timetable that allows for the proper consideration of the action.

Should the House measure pass expected, given Democratic control of the House, it will mark the second time Trump has been impeached. The first articles were approved a little more than a year ago.

Trump survived that effort when the Republican-controlled Senate failed to convict him.

While the Senate will remain under GOP leadership until Jan. 20, when Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is sworn in and becomes the tie-breaking vote in the deadlocked chamber, some Republican senators may join Democrats in removing the president.

Still, it would take 17 GOP votes to reach the two-thirds threshold for a conviction, and that will be a challenge.

Even if those 17 votes are there — and they could be — respect for the gravity of forcibly removing a president demands that it  not be carried out on a tight deadline. 

The House accuses Trump of the crime of inciting an insurrection during last week's rally of his supporters in Washington. Hundreds of pro-Trump protesters stormed the Capitol and briefly occupied the building, forcing out Congress members who were voting to certify Joe Biden's presidential victory. 

This is a grave charge against a sitting president. And while the case against Trump appears strong, the prosecution of it merits careful deliberation. 

Trump will effectively face a criminal trial in the Senate, with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts presiding.

Like any criminal defendant, the Constitution affords him the rights of due process. That includes the time necessary to prepare and present his defense. Seven days does not meet the standard of fairness.

The Founders made impeachment a difficult process for a reason — they didn't want it to become a political weapon.

Denying Trump an adequate defense and convicting him in the equivalent of a kangaroo court would make a mockery of a sober process the nation has used sparingly throughout its history.

Short-circuiting the steps the Constitution established to guard against politics risks setting what would be a regrettable precedent for impeachment to become just another partisan weapon, casually used.