One of the most influential Republicans in the United States Senate has warned that “former Democratic Presidents” could be impeached if the Senate moves ahead with an impeachment trial against former President Donald Trump.
Trump was impeached in the US House of Representatives this month for “incitement of insurrection” after some of his supporters stormed the US Capitol on January 6 as Congress met to certify the election victory of President Joe Biden.
While some Republicans in the Senate, where an impeachment trial is set to begin in February, have criticised Trump’s actions, several say they oppose moving forward with the proceedings after Trump has left office.
“If it is a good idea to impeach and try former Presidents, what about former Democratic Presidents when Republicans get the majority in 2022?” John Cornyn, a 19-year veteran of the Senate, said in a tweet directed at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Saturday.
“Think about it and let’s do what is best for the country,” Cornyn wrote.
Trump is the first president in US history to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office.
Some scholars have argued that conducting an impeachment trial after a president has left office is unconstitutional, while others say it is permitted as long the proceedings begin before a president has left office.
More controversial is the question of whether impeachment proceedings could begin wholesale after a president has left office.
Cornyn’s statement comes as federal authorities continue to arrest individuals involved in the January 6 riot that left five dead.
The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has laid the blame for the violence at Trump’s feet, saying the mob was “provoked” and “fed lies” by the former president.
In a possible further complication of Trump’s case, at least five people arrested in the riot have suggested they were taking orders from Trump when they stormed the Capitol, The Associated Press reported on Saturday.
“I feel like I was basically following my president. I was following what we were called to do. He asked us to fly there. He asked us to be there,” Jenna Ryan, a Texas real estate agent who posted a photo on Twitter of herself flashing a peace sign next to a broken Capitol window, told a Dallas-Fort Worth television station.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported on Saturday that federal law enforcement agencies are privately debating not charging some of the rioters in hopes of preventing a deluge of cases from flooding the local courthouse.
While the discussions are in their early stages, some federal officials have suggested not charging those in the group of about 800 people who entered the Capitol building but did not commit any crimes beyond that, such as vandalism or violence, the newspaper reported.
The Department of Justice, which has already charged more than 135 people in the incident, has publicly pledged to doggedly identify and arrest anyone who stormed the building.
On Friday, federal officials arrested 34-year-old Garrett Miller of Texas for storming the Capitol and posting threatening tweets, including one that simply read “assassinate AOC”, a reference to Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.