Throughout the ongoing controversy over Barack Obama’s eligibility to occupy the Oval Office, questions have arisen about the consequences of removing a sitting president from power.
Would a constitutional crisis ensue? Can a presidential election be “undone?”
The recent publishing of previously “lost” testimony from President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial reflects on those questions, arguing the people have a right, duty and process for removing a president who disregards the Constitution.
“The cry also is raised that to remove the president is to create a constitutional crisis by undoing an election,” wrote Rep. James E. Rogan, R-Calif., in his prepared closing argument – which was not delivered as planned – for the impeachment trial. “There is no constitutional crisis created when the simple process of the Constitution comes into play.”
He continued, quoting Dr. Larry Arnn of the Claremont Institute, who said, “The people elect a president to do a constitutional job. … If the president is guilty of acts justifying impeachment, then he, not the Congress, will have overturned the election. He will have acted in ways that betray the purpose of his election. He will have acted not as a constitutional representative, but as a monarch, subversive of, or above, the law.”
Rogan’s “lost” argument is now published in his new book, “Catching Our Flag,” a volume of his comments and detailed diary notes as a member of the 13 House managers who prosecuted Clinton’s trial before the Senate.
Rogan told students of Hillsdale College that he had written his closing argument, but during a recess right before he delivered the speech, he was compelled to change his plans.
“In my prepared closing argument before the Senate, I had tried to summarize for my children and my grandchildren what the trial was about,” Rogan told Hillsdale. “But the Chief Justice called a break just before I was up, and while in the back room I heard some remarks on television that called for an immediate response. When I rose to speak, then, I jettisoned most of my prepared text.”
But now, for the first time in “Catching Our Flag,” Rogan’s original, “lost” comments are being made available to the public.
Many of Rogan’s other, never-before-heard arguments also reflect a parallel between what Clinton was accused of doing and what some would accuse Obama of doing, were he demonstrated to be ineligible to be president.
For example, Rogan had “jettisoned” the following prepared comments from what he actually said before the Senate:
- “[The president's] defenders now plead for no constitutional accountability for the one American uniquely able to defend – or debase – our Constitution and the rule of law,” Rogan wrote in his “lost” argument. “They seek to save him who cares only about saving himself. And they call for this remedy at the cost of weakening Jefferson’s revolutionary pledge, made only a few paces from this spot almost two centuries ago, of ‘equal and exact justice to all.’”
- “The youth of my generation were moved by the words of another who reminded us that the rule of law must apply to all, or it would apply to none,” Rogan had prepared to say in his “lost” argument. “Shortly before his tragic death, President John F. Kennedy echoed Jefferson’s sentiment. He said, ‘For one man to defy a law or court order he does not like is to invite others to do the same. This leads to a breakdown of all justice. Some societies respect the rule of force; America respect the rule of law.’ His words are important, because President Kennedy, like Jefferson before him, recognized no exception for those who happened to share his party affiliation or political agenda.”
- “Should this issue be decided by reviewing the latest polling data?” Rogan had planned to ask, but didn’t. “If your answer is ‘no’ to his question in the abstract, but you are inclined to vote for acquittal, take this self-test. Simply ask yourself if your vote on the Articles of Impeachment would be the same if the president stood at a 6-percent job approval rating instead of a 60-percent job approval raing. … But if that difference governs – if polls matter more than the oath to uphold the law – then yet another chip out of the marble has been struck.”
Not all of Rogan’s prepared remarks were jettisoned, however, as he carried much of his closing argument into the Senate, including comments that would be eerily poignant today, should Obama be found ineligible:
“The mere fact that a person is elected president does not give him the right to become president, no matter how overwhelming his vote margin,” Rogan told the Senate. “Votes alone do not make a person president of the United States. There is a requirement that precedes obtaining the power and authority of obtaining the presidency. It is the oath of office. It is swearing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. It is accepting the obligation that the laws are to be faithfully executed.
“No oath, no presidency,” he continued. “It is the oath of office, and not public opinion polls, that gives life and legitimacy to a presidency. This is true no matter how popular an elected president may be, or how broad his margin of victory.”
The entire text of Rogan’s “lost” argument can be read in Appendix 4 of his newest book, ““Catching Our Flag,” an uncensored, behind-the-scenes look at what went on during America’s last presidential impeachment.
“This first-hand narrative provides a fascinating inside tale of politics, power, expendiency and intimidation,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who wrote the foreword. “Other books in this subject invariably rely on fading recollections (or wholesale fantasies). Congressman James Rogan was more than a witness; he was a leading figure in the most important trial in our country’s political and legal history. It is a story only he can tell.”
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