Can a federal officeholder be impeached while not actually in office for offenses committed before holding the office he isn’t even guaranteed to ever hold? That would have been considered a ridiculous question not so long ago. Today? Politics as usual. A handful of House Republicans hope to impeach David Chipman, the man President Joe Biden wants to lead the ATF but who hasn’t been confirmed. Naturally, since he isn’t the director yet, his “impeachable offenses” occurred outside his potential reign. But don’t be too quick to write off the impeachment resolution as nothing more than a political stunt – thanks to the Trump-era Democrats, this has a slim chance of success.
The Case Against Chipman
Representative Matt Rosendale (R-MT) sponsors the resolution, which is co-sponsored by 11 other Republicans. Article I accuses Chipman of failing to support and defend the Second Amendment of the Constitution. “The people of the United States have an unquestioned right to keep and bear arms, enshrined in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution,” it reads.
The nominee’s long history as an activist is then detailed. He worked with gun-control groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Joyce Foundation, the Center for American Progress, Americans for Responsible Solutions, and – of course – Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, where he is currently a senior policy advisor and paid lobbyist. Throughout all that, Chipman worked to advance strict gun control. Chipman even responded, “I do, sir,” when asked if he believed in banning assault weapons – which he later defined as the vast majority of semiautomatic guns – during his confirmation hearing.
The damning accusation here is that as an activist and paid lobbyist, “David H. Chipman personally advocated, lobbied for, and expressed support for numerous policies which would violate and abridge the Second Amendment rights of Americans to keep and bear arms.”
Article II moves out of ideology and into actual behavioral issues. Chipman was asked several times whether he ever misplaced a firearm or had one stolen. He responded “no” each time – but his former colleagues at the ATF dispute this. Allegedly, while an agent, he left his service weapon in his personal vehicle one night, and it was stolen. When two stories conflict, at least one storyteller must be lying. If Chipman is the liar, he fibbed in sworn testimony to the United States Senate – a well-established impeachable offense.
Can Chipman be impeached for his political views and his words? After all, if he can be impeached for being against the unrestricted right to keep and bear arms, then the vast majority of the Democrats in office might do well to start sending out resumés now. And what of the alleged lie before Congress? One could argue that impeachment, as a way of getting rid of corrupt officials, can only be applied to actions taken while in office. Isn’t the proper way of handling misbehavior at this point simply to not confirm him?
Perhaps the answer was clear once upon a time, but even if it were, it certainly isn’t now. Democrats threatened impeachment and removal via the 25th Amendment well before Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. And they kept their word, doing their best to oust him from day one. America suffered through a two-year investigation into Russian collusion. When Trump was finally impeached – the first time – it was for his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which Democrats considered an abuse of power. Never mind the fact that Joe Biden boasted about using his position as vice president to get the Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating his son, Hunter, fired – it’s perfectly fine when a Democrat does it. The second impeachment, of course, was for political speech and ideology. Democrats claimed that his words on Jan. 6 directly incited the raid on the Capitol. Twice the House impeached President Trump. Twice the Senate tried him – once when he wasn’t even in office anymore – and found him not guilty.
It was the Democrats who showed America that all an impeachment requires is a simple majority in the House – evidence be damned.
Political Theater or Roosting Chickens?
The Democrats impeached Trump twice, but only because of the majority in the House – which they still cling to, though just barely. With only 12 representatives currently signed on to the resolution and facing even a razor-thin Democrat majority, can this move be anything more than mere political theater? No, not for now, in any case. But that could all change after the midterm elections next year. Congressional Republicans want to send a clear message that they won’t tolerate an anti-gun ideologue like Chipman at the head of the ATF, and that could go two ways. It could dissuade the Senate from confirming such a divisive figure – or it could push those few Democrats still on the fence to vote for him out of spite. But the real message is that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Democrats won’t always hold majorities in Congress, and when the GOP comes out on top again – quite possibly next year – the left will have no one else to blame when the chickens come home to roost.
Read more from James Fite.
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