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Meet the other American who was impeached and tried after leaving office

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Secretary of War William Worth Belknap
Secretary of War William Worth Belknap.Library of Congress / Library of Congress via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — At 7:00 p.m. ET tonight, House managers will present a single article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, kicking off a Senate trial whose arguments will start the week of Feb. 8.

Several Republicans have coalesced around a defense of Trump — that, under the Constitution, you can’t impeach and remove someone who’s no longer in office.

But there is historical precedent for impeaching and trying to convict a former federal officeholder.

In 1876, as the U.S. House of Representatives was about to vote on articles of impeachment against Secretary of War William Belknap over corruption charges, Belknap walked over to the White House, submitted his resignation letter to President Ulysses S. Grant and burst into tears.

The House still went ahead and impeached Belknap, and the Senate tried him, with the impeachment managers arguing that departing office doesn’t excuse the alleged offense — otherwise, officeholders would simply resign to escape conviction or impeachment.

And the Senate voted in 1876, by a 37-29 margin, that Belknap was eligible to be impeached and tried even though he resigned from office.

But Belknap was eventually acquitted, with the Senate failing to muster the two-thirds vote needed to convict. (A significant number of senators believed the Senate lacked jurisdiction to convict him because he no longer held office.)

So the Belknap precedent is instructive.

Nearly 150 years ago, a majority of senators voted that you could impeach and try a former officeholder — for high crimes and misdemeanors committed while in office.

But just enough senators were persuaded that it was pointless to convict.

The three groups of GOP senators

This history lesson from 1876 is also a useful way to look at the different arguments from Senate Republicans on Trump’s impeachment trial.

A small group of GOP senators wants Trump out of the party and out of the 2024 discussion — ASAP.

Another group doesn’t think Trump did anything wrong.

And a third group in the middle is troubled by Trump’s behavior leading up to Jan. 6, but they’ve settled in on a process argument — that you can’t impeach and convict a former officeholder.

It’s this third group who are likely the difference between Trump’s acquittal or conviction.

And they’re a reminder how Trump — whether in his business, or as president, or now out of office — has usually benefitted from people who just want to move on.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

25,236,815: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 491,369 more than Friday morning.)

420,516: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 9,076 more than Friday morning.)

110,628: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus

295.01 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

At least 18.5 million: The number of Americans who have received one or both vaccine shots so far.

30,573: The final tally of false or misleading claims made by President Trump during his time in office, per the Washington Post.

More than $1.3 billion: The damages sought in a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems against Rudy Giuliani

Tweet of the day

Biden’s day

At 11:30 a.m. ET, President Biden and Vice President Harris meet with newly confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At 3:45 p.m. ET, Biden delivers remarks on manufacturing and signs a “Buy American” executive order that ensures taxpayer dollars are being spent on American businesses. And at 1:00 p.m. ET, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a briefing with reporters.

Two down and many more to go

President Biden has just two confirmed members of his Cabinet as of this morning. They are Avril Haines (who was confirmed last week to serve as the Director of National Intelligence) and Lloyd Austin (who won confirmation on Friday to serve as Defense secretary).

Later today, Biden’s Treasury nominee, Janet Yellen, is expected to get her vote on the Senate floor.

That leaves three nominees who’ve had hearings without a vote scheduled: Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken and Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg.

While the Cabinet hearing/confirmation process has been delayed for Biden, his Commerce, Energy and Veterans’ Affairs nominees should all receive hearings this week. And the amount of hearings that Biden’s nominees can get in the next two weeks could be crucial given the impeachment trial of former President Trump slated to begin in early February.

State: Tony Blinken

Treasury: Janet Yellen

Defense: Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin (confirmed)

Attorney General: Merrick Garland

Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas

HHS: Xavier Becerra

Agriculture: Tom Vilsack

Transportation: Pete Buttigieg

Energy: Jennifer Granholm

Interior: Deb Haaland

Education: Miguel Cardona

Commerce: Gina Raimondo

Labor: Marty Walsh

HUD: Marcia Fudge

Veterans Affairs: Denis McDonough

UN Ambassador: Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines (confirmed)

EPA: Michael Regan

SBA: Isabel Guzman

OMB Director: Neera Tanden

U.S. Trade Representative: Katherine Tai

The Lid: A lid for The Lid

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we said goodbye to the old format of The Lid podcast. (But don’t forget to subscribe to The Chuck Toddcast for some exciting new content from all of us!)

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Biden will reinstate the Covid travel restrictions that Trump rescinded days before the end of his term.

The Senate is still fighting over the rules for how to operate under a 50-50 tie.

Over the weekend, some Senate Republicans threw cold water on the idea of an impeachment trial.

Trump has hired a new lawyer for his impeachment defense.

The president of Mexico has tested positive for Covid.

Did state-mandated lockdowns cause an economic crisis — or just the virus itself? A new study says it’s the latter.

NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald outlines five reasons that Democratic power in Washington may not last.

Sarah Sanders is running for governor of Arkansas.