Republican state AGs make a curious case against Trump's impeachment

The Republican state attorneys general specifically argued that impeaching a president "for acting in a legal manner" cannot be "legitimate." Yeah, about that..
Image: Trump speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House
Donald TrumpEvan Vucci / AP
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By Steve Benen

Congress didn't solicit the advice of state attorneys general in Donald Trump's impeachment trial, but 21 Republican state AGs decided to weigh in anyway, offering lawmakers some unsolicited guidance. The conservative Washington Times reported:

The Republican attorneys general of 21 states authored a scathing rebuke of the impeachment trial, urging senators to reject Democrats' charges against President Trump.

In a 13-page letter to the U.S. Senate, the attorneys general assert House Democrats' impeachment of Mr. Trump is nothing more than a political ploy that could destroy the Constitution's separation of powers provision.

The entirety of the letter is online here, and some of it's familiar. The GOP officials find the articles of impeachment unpersuasive; they believe the effort is at odds with "the Framers' design"; they're convinced Democrats are solely motivated by politics; and they believe impeachment should only be used in "exceedingly rare circumstances," which do not include Trump's illegal extortion scheme.

In a curious twist, they also somehow arrived at the idea that the president's corrupt motives mean he's being punished for "a political thought crime." That's a new one.

Adam Piper, executive director of the Republican Attorney General Association, added in a statement that Republicans "are committed to keeping America great," which is apparently why 21 of the nation's 26 GOP state AGs signed their name to the document.

After learning of the effort by way of Fox News coverage, the president seemed quite impressed with the effort, publishing a few tweets on the subject, one of which included a whole lot of all-caps words, suggesting Trump was quite worked up about the segments he saw. (Whether he read the entire multi-page, footnoted letter is unclear, though I think we can probably take an educated guess.)

Which was unfortunate, since the letter included one important flaw.

As Jon Chait noted, the Republican state attorneys general specifically argued that impeaching a president "for acting in a legal manner" cannot be "legitimate." That's a dubious assertion on its face -- as many constitutional scholars have noted of late, impeachment is not limited exclusively to illegalities -- but it's also wrong because the Government Accountability Office has already determined that the president didn't act in a legal manner.

Indeed, the GAO -- a non-partisan watchdog agency that conducts audits and investigations for Congress -- arrived at the opposite conclusion. "Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law. OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act (ICA)," the agency's report explained. "The withholding was not a programmatic delay. Therefore, we conclude that OMB violated the ICA."

How do the state AGs address this nagging detail? They don't. Perhaps they wrapped up the letter before the GAO released its findings; perhaps they found it inconvenient and chose to ignore the report. Either way, there's no reason for the Senate to take the letter too seriously.

MORE: Today's Maddowblog