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Top Conservative Legal Scholar Eviscerates Republicans' Main Argument Against Impeaching Trump

Top Conservative Legal Scholar Eviscerates Republicans' Main Argument Against Impeaching Trump
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Dealing a blow to former Republican President Donald Trump and his impeachment legal team, a top conservative lawyer and legal scholar has rejected out of hand the team's primary defense strategy.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Washington, D.C. lawyer Charles Cooper dismissed the Trump team's central argument that it is unconstitutional to impeach a president who has already left office, saying that their view "defies logic."

Cooper is a stalwart conservative and one-time Trump insider who has defended several Republicans closely aligned with the former president.

Cooper's op-ed came just a day before Trump's defense lawyers, Bruce L. Castor Jr. and David I. Schoen, filed a brief claiming that the Senate holds no jurisdiction to try an already unseated president.

Castor and Schoen's brief insists that because the Constitution does not explicitly state that the Senate can try former officials, the case against Trump, which goes to trial tomorrow, should be dismissed entirely.

But in his op-ed, Cooper stated plainly that Castor Jr.'s and Schoen's argument is essentially nonsense because the Constitution's impeachment provisions allow for the Senate to bar officials from ever again holding office in the future.

As Cooper put it:

"The provision cuts against [Castor Jr.'s and Schoen's] interpretation... it defies logic to suggest that the Senate is prohibited from trying and convicting former officeholders."

Cooper also criticized Senator Rand Paul's motion last month along the same lines, on which Trump's lawyers' argument is based, and called upon the Senate to dismiss it.

"The senators who supported Mr. Paul's motion should reconsider their view and judge the former president's misconduct on the merits."

Cooper is a revered lawyer and constitutional scholar with undeniable right-wing bona fides that predate Trump's political rise by decades.

He began his career in Washington by clerking for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, one of the most conservative Supreme Court justices in American history, and his time in Washington has been marked by legal stances that some would consider borderline extremist.

During his time in former Republican President Ronald Reagan's Justice Department, Cooper argued that employers should be allowed to decline to hire a person with AIDS. As a private lawyer, he has advocated for prayer in schools and been honored as Republican Lawyer of the Year by the National Rifle Association.

He has deep ties to the former Trump Administration as well. In its early days, Cooper was considered for the position of solicitor general. After opting to remain in private practice, he represented former Attorney General Jeff Sessions during the Russia investigation and Trump's former national security advisor John Bolton during Trump's first impeachment in 2019.

On Twitter, many applauded Cooper's analysis and willingness to speak out against his own party's tactics.

And some wondered if Cooper's rebuttal signaled a deeper break with Trump within the GOP than previously thought.

Many others were angered by the fact that Cooper's rebuttal even needed to be stated.

How Cooper's op-ed will impact the trial, if at all, remains to be seen.

But some believe it could provide cover for Republican Senators who might want to change course following the vote on unconstitutionality forced by Senator Paul last month, which caught many Senators off guard. Several Republicans in the Senate have since sought to distance themselves from their vote, signaling that their minds remain open both to the trial and the possibility of Trump's guilt.