Senator Arlen Specter seems to have taken up membership in the grassy-knoll club of crackpot conspirators. On Fox News Sunday, he raised the idea that a former president can be impeached. Apparently some unnamed, so-called constitutional expert whispered this suggestion in his ear.
Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution states:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
Raise your hand if you see the words “former president” in this clause. A former president is not “the president, vice president” or a civil officer of the United States. He’s a private citizen. There is no constitutional authority for impeaching a private citizen. If a private citizen violates the law, they’re subject to criminal and/or civil prosecution and penalties. Congress has no role whatsoever in that process.
Let’s look at the impeachment-penalty provision in the Constitution. Article I, Section 3 states:
Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.
There’s nothing in the penalty language that even suggests a former president is subject to impeachment. Once the president is out of office, he cannot be removed from office retroactively. Moreover, if words have meaning, this clause provides that “removal…and disqualification” are indivisible parts of a single penalty.
The Senate should have convicted and removed Bill Clinton from office some two years ago. The Senate even refused to hold a serious impeachment trial, and Specter nonsensically invoked Scottish law in opposing Clinton’s removal. As an aside, Independent Counsel Robert Ray had more than enough evidence to indict Clinton for obstruction, perjury and conspiracy — either while Clinton was president or afterward — but he, too, refused to uphold the law.
Specter sees in the Constitution what UFO hunters see in the night sky. He had an opportunity to do the right thing, and he didn’t. That’s his legacy.