TUESDAY, Feb. 16 — A longtime professor at Michigan State University’s College of Law is frustrated after he said attorneys for former President Donald Trump mischaracterized his research to argue that the president was legally incapable of impeachment after he left office.
But he doesn’t suspect it played a role in lawmakers’ decision to acquit Trump on Saturday.
“I’m not confident there were very many senators interested in doing the legal analysis and coming up with the best answer,” said Brian Kalt, who is on sabbatical but usually teaches torts and administrative law at MSU Law, where he has worked as a full-time professor since 2000. “They weren’t reading law review articles. This involved listening to hot takes and op-eds.”
One year after Kalt arrived at MSU, he penned a research article titled “The Constitutional Case for the Impeachability of Former Federal Officials.” In it, Kalt explores various legal theories on whether elected officials, like the president, could be impeached after they left the job.
The piece didn’t take sides, per se. It simply explored the constitutional underpinnings of how impeachment would be decided in what was then considered a rare and altogether unlikely scenario like the nation watched unfold last week. Trump’s attorneys cited it at least 15 times.
And Kalt immediately took issue: “I’d say at least 13 of those citations had problems,” he said.
“The problem isn’t that I reached a different conclusion. It was 124 pages and included as much evidence as I could find on both sides of the issue. This was not an easy issue, but some items in the brief were taken out of context or were just flat-out wrong. Even the citations were sloppy.”
Trump’s attorneys, for example, argued that “when a President is no longer in office, the objective of an impeachment ceases,” citing Kalt’s article in a footnote. The full text of that research, however, only suggests it as one interpretation with plenty of other weaknesses.
“The constitutional case for late impeachment has more strengths and fewer flaws than the case against it,” according to a line in Kalt’s research, which was only designed as objective analysis.
Kalt searched the Trump briefs when they were released, expecting to see his name. And he said he “wasn’t real happy” about seeing his work so widely misinterpreted and slanted.
Other lines also cited Kalt rather than the source material that he used to create his research.
“It was pretty obvious to me that the only recourse I had was to call them out on it,” Kalt said.
“They didn’t have to be disingenuous and misleading like this,” he wrote on Twitter.
In a post-acquittal interview with City Pulse, Kalt said many senators didn’t appear bothered with whether the Senate even had jurisdiction to try an ex-president. According to his analysis, only about 30 senators took issue with jurisdiction — not exactly a linchpin in the vote for acquittal.
“It wasn’t just cherry-picking parts of the article. It was sloppiness,” Kalt added. “Most of the time people can miss the point or ignore parts. It’s another thing for someone to cite me for the complete opposite of what was written. I can’t say that has happened to me in practice before.”
Kalt’s research also wasn’t the only time that Trump’s attorneys were accused of taking information out of context to peddle their defense of the former president last week.
Michigan State Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, released a statement on Friday after defense attorneys played a montage of videos that included a Facebook Live video of Johnson discussing death threats received in the wake of a committee hearing on election integrity.
“My comments are being taken out of context in a weak attempt to justify the riot,” she said, noting that “alt-right new outlets with an agenda” only skewed the footage out of context.
“We’ve already seen the entirety of what Trump is and what he stands for. We’ve seen that for four years, and it led to death threats, armed militias entering our state capitol and a deadly attack on our nation’s Capitol,” Johnson said in a statement released before Trump’s acquittal.
Kalt said he has received quite a few emails since publicly criticizing Trump’s attorneys ahead of the trial’s conclusion. And contrary to some of the more conspiratorial beliefs, Kalt pointed out that his research on impeachability was written more than a decade before Trump took office.
“Obviously, none of this was based on what I want to happen or not happen to Donald Trump,” he added. “I see that a lot, especially on Twitter. It’s like OK: Yeah, back in 2001 I was playing the really, really long game on how we can figure out how to impeach Trump after he left office.”