To the Editor:
In 1876, Secretary of War (now called Secretary of Defense) William Belknap was impeached for alleged corruption and put on trial in the Senate even though he had resigned. There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the Senate, which has sole authority over impeachment trials, from placing an impeached official on trial regardless of timing.
Think about it. If federal officials such as presidents, cabinet secretaries and judges could not be impeached and placed on trial, even if they had already left office for whatever reason, then that would be a terrible precedent because it would be allowing impeachable offenses to happen just as long as the bad behavior occurs near the end of the offender’s term of office or if the offender decides to resign after committing the offense(s). And where would that leave us? With little to no accountability or consequences for corrupt and impeachable behavior merely due to the timing of the offense(s). That’s unacceptable and dangerous, and surely was not the intention of our founders.
The ability to convict offenders for impeachable actions, coupled with preventing them from again holding office, even if they have already left office, is necessary to uphold public confidence in government and serve as a strong deterrent against corrupt and dangerous behavior by high-level federal officials.