Anatomy of a Witch Hunt

A year has now passed since Donald J. Trump was elected president of the United States. Trump frequently refers to the daily barrage of attacks on his presidency as a “witch hunt.” A quick review of the opinion essays published by mainstream (liberal) outlets shows the president is not exaggerating.

The liberal media began calling for the undermining of Trump’s presidency from almost the moment he was elected. For example, on November 17, 2016, Paul Waldman opined in the Washington Post that President-elect Trump “shouldn’t ever be treated like an ordinary president with whom Democrats just have some substantive disagreements,” while Dahlia Lithwick and David S. Cohen insisted in the New York Times on December 14, “As Monday’s Electoral College vote approaches, Democrats should be fighting tooth and nail.”

With respect to the Electoral College itself, Theodore G. Venetoulis proclaimed in the Baltimore Sun that it was “the electors’ duty” to reject Trump and let the U.S. House of Representatives pick the president. Venetoulis’ plea went nowhere. However, Richard Cohen took the inevitable next step when, on January 9, he outlined in his Washington Post column “how to remove Trump from office.” Of course, Trump didn’t actually take office until January 20, 2017—a not-so-minor detail that Cohen failed to appreciate.

Liberal attacks on Trump went from bad to worse after he took the oath of office. For instance, a pair of legal scholars published an article in Time magazine less than three weeks after Trump became president in which they insisted that Trump should be impeached and removed from office for violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, an obscure provision addressing corruption and curry-favoring at the hands of foreign governments. Two problems with that claim: first, Trump has not violated the provision and, second, the provision applies only to appointed officials, not to elected ones.

Robert Reich didn’t care that the Emoluments Clause argument was a nonstarter. In an April 8 op-ed for the Chicago Sun-Times, President Clinton’s former labor secretary included the Emoluments Clause in a list of “at least four grounds for impeaching Trump.” The other three on Reich’s list were President Trump’s alleged “unfaithfully executing his duties as president” in faulting President Obama on several occasions; his alleged violation of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion with his travel ban; and his alleged violation of the First Amendment protection for a free press in criticizing the media for criticizing him. Reich threw in a “possible” fifth ground at the end of his op-ed: “treason against the United States.”

With all due respect to Reich, that is an extremely serious charge for him to levy against any president, let alone a president who had only been in office for less than three months at the time. Moreover, Reich offered no evidence to support the charge. It was as if he expected people would simply agree with the charge on its face.

Laurence H. Tribe added his voice to the impeachment chorus when he wrote in the Washington Post on May 13 that Trump “must be impeached” for “obstruction of justice” after firing FBI Director James Comey. Revealingly, Tribe tried to explain why, in his not-so-impartial opinion, what Bill Clinton had done when he was president was not an impeachable offense. “In Clinton’s case,” Tribe wrote, “the ostensible obstruction consisted solely in lying under oath about a sordid sexual affair that may have sullied the Oval Office but involved no abuse of presidential power as such.”

Of course, Tribe conveniently failed to mention that the House rejected the Left’s attempts to trivialize Clinton’s misconduct when it impeached Clinton. The federal judge who presided over the lawsuit in which Clinton perjured himself disagreed too when she held Clinton in contempt of court, as did the Arkansas Supreme Court when it suspended Clinton’s law license for five years.

The Left’s most desperate tactic is to argue that President Trump is not “mentally fit” to serve and should be stripped of power under the 25th Amendment. That amendment provides that the vice president and a majority of the cabinet, or a congressionally appointed body, can decide the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” and remove him. On June 16, Prudence L. Gourguechon, a Chicago psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in which she insisted the president’s “Twitter habits” are inconsistent with the U.S. Army’s manual on leadership and therefore raise 25th Amendment concerns.

As if that weren’t enough of a stretch, Jeannie Suk Gerson reported in an October 16, 2017, article in The New Yorker that “the Duty to Warn movement” has broken with “long-standing protocol to sound the alarm on an unstable President.” Apparently, none of the so-called mental health experts who comprise the Duty to Warn movement have ever examined the president, which makes their public diagnosis of him both unconvincing and unethical. Moreover, no one should take seriously a group of liberal doctors who insist  President Trump presents “the greatest psychiatric emergency in the history of the United States, maybe in the history of the world.”

This sort of over-the-top rhetoric is a disservice to the American people. So, too, is the liberal media’s incessant attempts to manufacture grounds for overturning a presidential election that Donald Trump won fair and square. It is likewise the dictionary definition of a “witch hunt”: “the searching out and deliberate harassment of those (such as political opponents) with unpopular views.”  

As President Trump himself tweeted a few days ago,

The presidential election was over a year ago. It is time for the president’s critics to accept that fact and work with the president, not against him.


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About Scott Douglas Gerber

Scott Douglas Gerber is a visiting professor at Brown University’s Political Theory Project and a law professor at Ohio Northern University. His nine books include A Distinct Judicial Power: The Origins of an Independent Judiciary, 1606-1787 (Oxford University Press).