Invoking the ‘25th Amendment’: Could it Be Used to Unseat Donald Trump as US President?

Alao Abiodun
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President Donald Trump, 45th president of the United States on Monday, this week, seconded the allegation that there had been a coup attempt against him before heading out to play golf at his Florida club on Presidents Day.

The president tweeted a quote from Fox News guest Dan Bongino alleging “an illegal coup attempt” against him, adding “true!”

The message capped off a series of angry tweets Trump wrote on Monday about former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who gave an explosive interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday alleging that FBI Deputy Director Andrew Rosenstein repeatedly discussed using the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.

The 25th Amendment is the part of the Constitution that details succession if a president dies or becomes otherwise incapacitated. However, Section 4 of the 25th Amendment has never been invoked in reality, though it’s a staple of thriller fiction. But there’s been a surge of interest in it throughout Trump’s presidency, as reports of the president’s bizarre behavior behind closed doors have piled up, and as his top officials have kept anonymously telling reporters that he’s unfit to govern.

The conversations came in the chaotic days after James Comey was fired as FBI director, McCabe told CBS, as the FBI became increasingly convinced that the president was obstructing into the agency’s investigation in Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Rosenstein went as far to offer to wear a wire to the White House to gather information, McCabe said. (Officials have previously told NBC News Rosenstein made the remark sarcastically)

The Department of Justice said in a statement that they saw McCabe’s telling of “events as inaccurate and factually incorrect” saying that the department’s “Inspector General found that Mr. McCabe did not tell the truth to federal authorities on multiple occasions, leading to his termination from the FBI.”

In a string of five tweets Monday, Trump wrote that there were “so many lies” in McCabe’s interview, calling it “deranged.”

“This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!” Trump wrote in another tweet.

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Mr McCabe said in the interview, “Rod raised the [25th Amendment] issue and discussed it with me in the context of thinking about how many other Cabinet officials might support such an effort.” He added that he believed Rosenstein was “counting votes or possible votes” to remove Mr Trump from office. It was reported on Sunday that Mr Baker, in his testimony to Congress, provided even more details about the alleged 25th Amendment discussions — saying two Cabinet officials were “ready to support” such an effort.

“I was being told by some combination of Andy McCabe and Lisa Page, that, in a conversation with the Deputy Attorney-General, he had stated that he — this was what was related to me — that he had at least two members of the president’s Cabinet who were ready to support, I guess you would call it, an action under the 25th Amendment,” Mr Baker testified.

What the 25th Amendment of U.S. Constitution Says?

The 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution addresses what happens to the presidency and vice-presidency if the president and/or vice president dies, resigns or becomes incapacitated or disabled. Passed by Congress on July 6, 1965, the 25th Amendment was ratified by the states on February 10, 1967.

Invoking the 25th Amendment has always been controversial, especially Article 4, which allows for removal of a president who is deemed incapacitated by any kind of illness—including mental illness—or injury.

Prior to the 25th Amendment, presidential succession procedures existed, but they were vague and didn’t cover every contingency. Assumedly, the vice president would become president if the president died or resigned. However, it wasn’t clear what should happen if the president was temporarily incapacitated or if the vice president was incapacitated.

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The 25th Amendment sought to address these concerns. The original Constitution allowed for the vice president to become acting president if the president died, resigned or became debilitated, but it didn’t state who had the power to declare the president unfit to serve or prevent the president from returning to office.

The 25th Amendment and Donald Trump’s dilemma

Under the leadership of Donald Trump, some have initiated dialog about invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment against him. Still, the 25th Amendment exists to protect the democratically-elected President and the line of succession. It makes it difficult to unseat a President without proven just cause and majority consensus.

Until the 25th Amendment, each administration came up with its own plan to handle presidential and vice-presidential vacancies and reinstatement. This ambiguity led to confusion, ambiguity and in some cases, deceit.

For instance, in 1841, President William Harrison became the first president to die in office; vice president John Tyler succeeded him. Harrison’s cabinet gave Tyler the title, “Vice President Acting President,” but Tyler wanted more. He moved into the White House, had himself sworn in as president and assumed full presidential powers, including giving an Inaugural Address.

Despite some controversy, Congress eventually confirmed Tyler’s presidency. In 1919, after having a series of strokes and ignoring warning signs of ill-health and neurological problems, President Woodrow Wilson had a massive stroke from which he never recovered during his presidency.

When his Cabinet suggested the vice president take over, Wilson’s wife Edith and his doctor, Cary Grayson, conspired to keep his condition a secret from both Congress and the public, leaving the United States without a competent leader.

For Donald Trump to be removed from office under the mechanism included in the amendment, one of two things has to happen.

  • A majority of the Cabinet and Vice President Pence must agree that Trump is unfit for office, or
  • Pence and a commission established by Congress (which doesn’t currently exist) would have to reach a similar agreement.

If such an agreement is met, a letter is sent to Congress and Trump is out. However, Trump endorses claim that McCabe was part of ‘coup attempt’.

Former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon’s exposition

Last year, September, Former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, said U.S. President Donald Trump was facing a “coup”, He told Reuters, pointing to an anonymous column in the New York Times detailing resistance within the Trump administration.

“What you saw the other day was as serious as it can get. This is a direct attack on the institutions,” Bannon said during a flying visit to Italy. “This is a coup, okay”.

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The column which was published last year was written by an unnamed senior administration official, the New York Times said. The writer slammed Trump’s “amorality” and said: “Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

Bannon said the last time a U.S. president had been challenged in such a fashion was during the American Civil War when General George B. McClellan clashed with the then president, Abraham Lincoln. “This is a crisis. The country has only ever had such a crisis in the summer of 1862 when General McClellan and the senior generals, all Democrats in the Union Army, deemed that Abraham Lincoln was not fit and not competent to be commander in chief,” Bannon said.

Trump however said, the U.S. Justice Department should find out who wrote the piece, adding that it was an issue of national security. Bannon was fired by Trump in August, 2017 after he fell out with the president’s more mainstream advisers over his efforts to bend the Republican party to his own economic nationalist agenda.

Bannon said he had resigned from his post and told CBS television at the time that the “Republican establishment” was looking to nullify the 2016 election and neuter Trump. “There is a cabal of Republic establishment figures who believe Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. This is a crisis,” Bannon said in Rome.

Thinking the Unthinkable: Could there Be a Military Coup in the US?

There are so many things that stands in the way of an American coup actually happening? First and foremost is the ingrained legitimacy of the civilian commander-in-chief, to whom the US military has been subordinate for 250 years. But it’s important to remember that the US military’s oath is taken to defend the Constitution. If there were ever clear evidence that the president had acted to subvert the Constitution, and Congress proved unable or unwilling to impeach that president, the military’s first obligation might come into question.

The second major obstacle to a successful coup is the fact that military authority is not invested in one person; the National Guard, unless called into federal service, is subject to the authority of state governors. Meanwhile, the US’s gun control laws mean that any potential leaders of a military coup would have to deal with the problem of a well-armed citizenry.

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To neutralise these two fronts of potential resistance, the plotters of an American military coup would need to deny them information on what’s happening, and just as importantly to deny any would-be loyalists the time or ability to act.

The last major obstacles are the sheer size of the US and the way power is diffused across it. Any coup would have to do more than simply secure Washington, DC; to seize maximum control over the centres of political, financial and media power, it would also (at a minimum) need to secure Manhattan and large parts of Los Angeles.

However, any plot would have two crucial things working in its favour. First, the sheer implausibility of a coup means that the US domestic intelligence agencies, particularly the FBI, aren’t looking for signs of unrest within the military and second, the sheer size and complexity of the US military means that a conspiracy involving those of sufficiently high rank could move substantial military assets without raising too many questions.


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