It would be a big mistake for Democrats to attempt impeachment of the president said constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley.
The president’s speech to protesters on Wednesday, Jan. 6, has been seen as an opportunity to blame the president for the actions of some who later entered the U.S. Capitol Building amid the chaos that appeared to be created by antifa, as some individuals later admitted they were paid to break into the building and incite Trump supporters to do likewise.
“With seeking his removal for incitement, Democrats would gut not only the impeachment standard but also free speech, all in a mad rush to remove Trump just days before his term ends,” Turley, who himself was an impeachment inquiry witness months ago, wrote in an opinion piece in The Hill.
Earlier in the day, PresidentTrump delivered a speech to his supporters alleging election fraud and noted the irregularities during the Nov. 3 contest. Democrats are seeking to impeach him due to his remarks at the rally.
President Trump said the protest during the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress shows “the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” And he added to the crowd, “Let us walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.” The president did not tell the protesters to breach the Capitol or commit acts of violence, later condemning them.
At one point, the president reminded his supporters to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices be heard.”
“This address does not meet the definition for incitement under the criminal code. It would be viewed as protected speech by the Supreme Court,” Turley wrote in The Hill.
“When I testified in the impeachment hearings of Trump and Bill Clinton, I noted that an article of impeachment does not have to be based on any clear crime but that Congress has looked to the criminal code to weigh impeachment offenses,” he said.
“For this controversy now, any such comparison would dispel claims of criminal incitement. Despite broad and justified condemnation of his words, Trump never actually called for violence or riots. But he urged his supporters to march on the Capitol to raise their opposition to the certification of electoral votes and to back the recent challenges made by a few members of Congress.”
Turley went on to say the incident was similar to many violent protests that have occurred over the past few years: “criminal conduct was carried out by a smaller group of instigators” and “Capitol Police knew of the march but declined an offer from the National Guard since they did not view violence as likely.”
Turley said the push to impeach the president would set a “more extreme” precedent.
“Under their theory, any president could be removed for rhetoric that is seen to have the ‘natural tendency’ to encourage others to act in a riotous fashion. Even a call for supporters to protest peacefully could not be a defense,” he said. “Such a standard would allow for a type of vicarious impeachment that attributes conduct of third parties to any president for the purposes of removal.”