With Donald Trump’s acquittal at his second impeachment trial ~ in itself unprecedented in American history ~ there is life yet in the debate on whether the court is a more appropriate forum to hold the former President accountable than a Senate trial. The Senate proceedings, therefore, may not be the final word on whether he is to blame for the outrageous attack on the Capitol on 6 January, alleged to have been masterminded by him in the twilight phase of his administration. Hence the rather subjective reflection that while Mr Trump has merely escaped his possible comeuppance, he has indubitably been exonerated nonetheless.
Well may Mr Trump take recourse to the legal option. And his next step could be the court. Now a private citizen, Trump is stripped of his protection from legal liability that the Presidency afforded him. That change in status is something that even Republicans, who voted on Saturday to acquit him of inciting the ugly developments as 2021 unfolded, are emphasising as they urge Americans to move on from impeachment. Quite the most amazing response has come from the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations has run.” He insisted that the courts were a more appropriate venue to hold Mr Trump accountable.than a Senate trial. “He didn’t get away with anything yet,” McConnell said. “Yet.”
On closer reflection, the insurrection at the Capitol, in which five people died two weeks before Joe Biden’s inaugural, is just one of the legal cases shadowing Mr Trump in the months after he was voted out of office, last November.
He also faces legal exposure in Georgia over an alleged pressure campaign on state election officials, and in glitzy Manhattan over hush-money payments and business deals. The grot has overshadowed the glitz. There is, therefore, a litigation too many pending against him. And it would be presumptuous quite yet to suggest that he lives to fight another day. What was wrapped up in five days was only the legislative judgment.
Arguably, the judicial procedure might take much longer than what appears to be a rapid-fire enquiry by the political class. But the former President’s culpability under the law for inciting the riot is far from clear-cut. The standard is high under court decisions that date back 50 years. New evidence is emerging every day. Not that the plot has thickened, but it may not be readily possible to walk free from the courtroom.