Everywhere we look, it seems like no one believes Trump’s impeachment lawyers are doing a good job. Their case seems disjointed, uninspired, and just, well, flat out wrong. None of that should be a big surprise. First, Trump’s last legal team quit almost in unison after he reportedly urged them to argue his case based on widespread election fraud. These claims have always been untrue — and they’re the reason he was impeached a second time anyway. For his lawyers to argue factually incorrect data would be to risk disbarment.
And his second legal team has mostly avoided those arguments in favor of building a case based on the lack of constitutionality of the second impeachment, which occurred right before Trump left office, therefore ensuring he could not be tried while he was in office. If it sounds like a flimsy argument, that’s because it is. And they haven’t had much time to organize it, which is why it probably sounds so unorganized.
The arguments are messy for a few reasons, lack of time being the first. The second is on the basis of precedent. Other public officials (but not presidents) have been impeached after leaving office. That’s because impeachment is a way of holding people accountable for their actions. A murderer can’t argue that his past crimes are irrelevant because he’s not murdering people anymore. That would be silly.
The third reason is perhaps the most obvious. The entire foundation of our government — nay, the entire purpose of our government — is to guarantee accountability. It’s why our founding fathers gave us a system of checks and balances. It’s why they gave us ways to root out corruption and bar people from ever holding office again. Impeachment isn’t always about removal. It’s about stopping Trump from having that power again. To argue that Trump cannot be tried because he’s not in office completely misses the point.