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Belknap’s impeachment compared to Trump’s
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I recently congratulated Republican Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks, of the Iowa 2nd, on her stunning 6-vote margin victory!  

The moniker “Landslide Meeks” seemed perfect for my letter. (I haven’t heard back; she may not have any sense of humor).

Actually, I don’t know much about Meeks except she was a 25-year Army veteran nurse and physician, and served in the Iowa state senate prior to her landslide congressional election.  

The Iowa 2nd has some history connections for me. My 1870s forebearers came from Louisa County, right in the heart of the Iowa 2nd. And one of the Iowa 2nd’s more infamous politicians is indirectly at the heart of the upcoming 2nd impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

DJT’s new legal team will argue that a president cannot be impeached once he or she leaves office. No president or vice president has been impeached after leaving office. But the impeachment clause of the constitution covers all federal officers, not just presidents, VPs and judges.  

Case in point: in 1876, William Belknap, President Ulysses Grant’s Secretary of War and former Union army General, ended up a consummate bribe-taker. He and his second wife were incapable of living on $8,000 per year (about $190,000 in today’s money). Belknap was a former Democrat before the Civil War. The rumors of bribes were enough for the Congress in February 1876 to launch a bipartisan impeachment.  

William Belknap was a courageous man. His exploits as a brigadier general in the battle of Atlanta, when his men’s trench lines were being attacked from three sides, was legendary. But his courage was not of concern at his impeachment trial.

All of the senators voted that he was guilty of taking bribes, but a two-thirds margin could not be had because many senators felt Belknap had resigned before the impeachment began; thus the impeachment was invalid. He was acquitted.

What’s this got to do with 2021?

There are two issues. What did the president say on the Mall on Jan. 6th? Then a second decision by Senators comes as to whether a President can be impeached after he leaves office.  

Trump and Belknap were federal officers. Will the decision be the same this time?

As the law professors are writing these days and it’s important to remember, an impeachment vote is political, not based on law. Senators take an oath to act like a jury and do impartial justice, but nothing requires them to do that.  

The courts do not review the decision of the Senate.  

Stay tuned.  

As a twilight thought, Belknap also commanded the Iowa Brigade during the Civil War, my Great-Great-Grandfather’s brigade. The Iowa brigade was at the Battle of Atlanta, went with Sherman on his March to the Sea, and up the Carolinas destroying what was left of the Confederacy as they went.  

My great-great-uncle, William Jennings, was Belknap’s aide during these last months. He was a Nebraska banker by the time his old boss was cashiered.

All from the Iowa 2nd’s Louisa County.

Ron Smith