Ernst: Impeaching former President Trump would be ‘unconstitutional’

    Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks Oct. 13, 2020, during the confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. (Screen shot from livestream)

    U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said Tuesday she believes it would be unconstitutional to convict former President Trump of impeachment charges in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

    “Yes, I do right now believe that it is unconstitutional,” Ernst told a reporter who asked about Sen. Rand Paul’s procedural move asserting that it would be unconstitutional to put a former president on trial on articles of impeachment.

    “And certainly, we will have to look at the precedent that sets as well, … to try a person who is a private citizen, and the implications that that could have on future presidencies, as well as former presidents,” she said.

    Ernst, in a conference call with Iowa reporters, also said she believed Trump showed “poor leadership” by not doing more to stop the riot, during which a police officer and four other people died.

    “As far as responsibility, I think the president, President Trump, did exhibit poor leadership,” Ernst said. “Certainly, I believe that he should have been out much sooner, telling the crowd, you know, ‘Don’t. We’re peacefully protesting, you know, don’t do these actions.’ He didn’t do that soon enough. But does that mean he is guilty of inciting insurrection?”

    Ernst said it would be up to House impeachment managers to show that Trump’s actions meet the legal definition of inciting insurrection. “I don’t believe that maybe it does meet that definition. But again, I’ll listen to those arguments,” she said.

    She said Trump could still be held accountable through the courts if he is “truly guilty” of something.

    “Our role, of course, is to follow the Constitution and abide by our constitutional duties,” she said.

    The U.S. House voted Jan. 13 to impeach Trump while he was still in office for inciting the riot.  It is up to the Senate, which was still under Republican control until Jan. 20, to decide whether to convict Trump and subject him to penalties including removing his post-presidency benefits and barring him from running for office again.