WASHINGTON — As the Senate is set to vote Wednesday on the removal from office of President Trump — with acquittal all but assured — Republicans are already plotting to expunge the impeachment if they retake the House.
With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi having publicly stated that Trump’s “impeachment will last forever,” Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican who would be in line to be speaker if Republicans regain the majority in November, offering an alternative.
“This is the fastest, weakest, most political impeachment in history,” McCarthy told the New York Post on Wednesday. “I don’t think it should stay on the books.”
If McCarthy does take the gavel from Pelosi in January 2021, he will hold immense power to pass legislation — and a vote on expungement almost certainly would yield party-line support.
McCarthy and other Republicans say that investigating how Democrats — led by Pelosi, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, like Pelosi a California Democrat, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York — pursued the impeachment of Trump could provide the factual basis to underpin an expungement effort.
“I think [if] we take the majority, some of the key priorities for us are infrastructure, lowering prescription drugs and others. But I think when you look at what the Democrats have done, I also think we have to get to the bottom of it,” McCarthy said.
“There’s still an 18th transcript that was never released about the inspector general. It’s interesting to know, in there, there was 179 pages, did Adam Schiff know the whistleblower? Did he meet with the whistleblower? I think a lot of questions are raised about whether that individual, Adam Schiff, was a fact witness.”
The notion of expungement is likely to please Trump, who by many accounts has been stung by having become the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. His defense team told senators it was reasonable for Trump to ask Ukraine to investigate Democrats including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who took a highly compensated board job at a Ukrainian energy company while his father led the Obama administration’s push to rid Ukraine of corruption. Trump denies stalling nearly $400 million in foreign aid as leverage.
Unlike the other impeached presidents, Trump is in line to potentially serve another full term, increasing the political value of expungement for him and for GOP lawmakers.
Backers of the notion point to the House voting in 1837 to expunge a censure of President Andrew Jackson, though some legal experts believe expungement would be only symbolic.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, told the New York Post “there is precedent for doing it in a later Congress,” citing the Jackson censure vote. Gohmert said he’s thought a lot about the possibility and he’s convinced Republicans would do it.
“The president is there, and I think ultimately with the things that are going to be coming out in the months ahead, it will be all the more appropriate. More and more people will see that,” Gohmert said. “So then I think by next year it will be an appropriate thing to file and do.”
Other Trump loyalists endorsed the notion in principle.
“I think there would be a groundswell of support” for expungement legislation, said Rep. Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, though he said it was premature to decide post-acquittal strategy.
Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, said “the president should have never been impeached in the first place” and that expungement is “a good idea.”
The idea’s been floated before. Twelve years after President Bill Clinton’s impeachment for misconduct related to an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Rep. Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania introduced legislation disavowing the past votes. His effort went nowhere, and Fattah is currently in prison for bribery, money laundering and fraud.
Jonathan Turley, called as a legal scholar by the Republicans during the House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing, told the New York Post that expungement wouldn’t mean much legally, even if it made Republicans feel better. “The House could hold the vote, but it would be more cathartic than constitutional,” said Turley, a law professor at George Washington University. “Trump is impeached. … Even if the Senate were to cancel the trial or dismiss the charges, impeachment is a historical and unavoidable fact.”
Indeed, some Republicans were skeptical of the value of expungement, even if they agreed with the sentiment.
“Certainly having it removed would be appropriate,” said retiring Rep. Mark Meadows of North Caroline, a vigorous Trump defender. “That said, I don’t know if there is a real vehicle constitutionally to get that done.”