Trump says he would 'head to the Supreme Court' to block impeachment
Just minutes after Mr Trump was condemned by the UK government’s spy agency for promoting a conspiracy theory that it had helped the administration of Barack Obama covertly surveil his election campaign, the president launched the latest in a series of angry tweets about the Mueller report.
He wrote: “The Mueller Report, despite being written by Angry Democrats and Trump Haters, and with unlimited money behind it ($35,000,000), didn’t lay a glove on me. I DID NOTHING WRONG. If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the US Supreme Court.”
In a second tweet, Mr Trump added that there are "no ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ there are no Crimes by me at all... We waited for Mueller and WON, so now the Dems look to Congress as last hope!”
Mr Trump likely sees the Supreme Court as more favourable territory for him, given that he has nominated two conservative judges during his term in the White House that have been confirmed onto the court. First there was Neil Gorsuch and then last year came Brett Kavanaugh. That helped create a right-wing majority on the court.
However, while Mr Trump has shown some knowledge of impeachment procedure, it is debatable that the Supreme Court could step in on what would be a Congressional matter.
First, it is the House of Representatives that can begin the push for removal of the president, and a number of Democrats have previously tabled articles of impeachment. While no articles have yet been approved by a vote in the House, the Senate would take over if any were successful.
The Senate would then hold an impeachment hearing, presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. This acts as a trial, with the House acting as prosecutor. It is the Senate that holds the power however, with members able to ignore the advice of the chief justice during a final vote on impeachment.
Article 2 of the US Constitution states that officials such as the president can only be impeached over “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours” – with Mr Trump tweeting that this does not apply to him. However, historical context suggests that those writing the constitution believed that this also encompassed political misconduct, which could include actions such as obstruction of justice.
Impeachment, or removal from office, is also the only action taken by Congress and does not lead to criminal consequences, leaving no room for the Supreme Court to rule. The Constitution lays the “sole power” of impeachment before the House of Representatives and the Senate.
In a 1993 case Nixon v the United States, relating to the impeachment of a federal judge Walter Nixon in Mississippi, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the use of the word "sole" in the constitution means that the judiciary should not intervene and could not review impeachment decisions.
Legal scholar and frequent Fox News contributor Alan Dershowitz wrote in his 2018 book The Case Against Impeaching Trump that the Supreme Court could review impeachment if Mr Trump had been impeached over collusion – saying it is not a crime. But the issue of obstruction of justice is a different matter.
In his report, which was released in a redacted form last week, special counsel Robert Mueller laid out 11 instances where Mr Trump may have obstructed justice. The report did not pass judgement on the legality of such actions, or exonerate the president. Attorney General William Barr then declined to pursue charges in the wake of the Mueller report and any further action now lies with Congress.
Democrats, who control the House, remain divided over the issue of impeachment. Mr Trump and his White House are also seeking to fight any new congressional oversight on the issues raised by the Mueller report.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership have played down the idea of impeaching the president ahead of the 2020 election. However, a number of those in the party's more liberal wing have demanded such proceedings begin.