Growing demand to prosecute Donald Trump for disorder bordering on sedition
A majority of Cabinet Secretaries and the Vice President have to agree to remove the President from office, but the provision is meant for health emergencies. But clamour is growing for prosecution
At 3.32 am on 7 January, 65 days after voting, the United States’ antiquated, tortuous and unending electoral process eventually concluded.
At an all-night joint sitting of the country’s two legislative wings – the House of Representatives and the Senate, together known as Congress – in a culminating step certified Democrat Joseph Biden as the next president of the US. This, notwithstanding objections from fanatical supporters of the outgoing President, Donald Trump, who baselessly objected to the results in the states of Arizona and Pennsylvania.
But before that four people died in clashes between Trump rooting anarchists and police as hundreds out of the thousands who marched to the parliament building known as the Capitol, in Washington DC, stormed into it to stall the confirmation proceedings.
Since his defeat, the incumbent had been exhorting his irrational, far right supporters to assemble in the city on 6 January - the day of the certification. In a 70-minute speech at a park near his seat of office, the White House he maintained: “You will never take back our country with weakness.” His followers then committed what were acts of sedition and treason arguably incited by Trump.
A lawmaker belonging to Trump’s Republican party Liz Cheney was categorical in telling the Fox News TV channel: “There’s no question the President formed the mob. The president incited the mob. The president addressed the mob. He lit the flame.”
As per Section Four of the 25th Amendment to the US constitution, Vice-President Mike Pence and 13 of Trump’s 24 cabinet members have to “transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate (since the vice president is the ex-officio president of the Senate) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. The vice-president may then “immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President”. Several responsible US news organisations claimed Trump’s cabinet colleagues have discussed the possibility of ousting him.
The mechanism, though, was really designed for a president who is health-wise incapacitated. It could be argued this is the case as far as Trump’s mental state is concerned. But such a position is required to be ratified within three weeks by a two-thirds majority in both houses, which would be difficult to achieve. It’s less than two weeks before Biden is inaugurated.
That does not mean prosecution of Trump cannot be considered. In an initial swoop police arrested at least 52 troublemakers. Those suspected of unlawful entry into the Capitol’s premises and more importantly of violence will be charged and some may face long prison sentences. So, ring leader of the extreme violation, which for several hours subverted Congress' business and constitutional obligations, cannot presumably be above the law. It would be a mockery of democracy and the rule of law if anyone was exempt.
While the mayhem was unfolding, President-elect Biden in a video-cast made clear: “This is not dissent. It is disorder. It is chaos. It borders on sedition.”
Republican senator and erstwhile presidential candidate Mitt Romney told his fellow party legislators who chose to subscribe to Trump’s “dangerous gambit” they “will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy”.
The influential Republican leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell, like Pence, also defiantly turned against Trump. He declared: “We will not be kept out of this chamber by thugs, mobs and threats.”
Biden is scheduled to be sworn in on 20 January.