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Fmr White House Ethics Lawyer: Trump Isn’t Mentally Competent to Stand Trial in the Senate


Is President Donald Trump mentally competent to stand trial? While the question itself may seem like something of a troll, there’s at least one high-profile legal professional who apparently doesn’t think so.

Former White House ethics lawyer current Minnesota Law School Professor Richard Painter publicly considered the notion.

“This statute, if embodied in the rules of the Senate, will probably indefinitely postpone an impeachment trial,” Painter tweeted on Friday evening. “The Chief Justice could so rule. 18 U.S. Code § 4241 – Determination of mental competency to stand trial.”

That statute reads, in relevant part:

At any time after the commencement of a prosecution for an offense and prior to the sentencing of the defendant, or at any time after the commencement of probation or supervised release and prior to the completion of the sentence, the defendant or the attorney for the Government may file a motion for a hearing to determine the mental competency of the defendant. The court shall grant the motion, or shall order such a hearing on its own motion, if there is reasonable cause to believe that the defendant may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense.

Painter explained how the law might be put to use by a canny opposition party–which probably means not the Democrats.

“The statute says that the attorney for the government (the attorney prosecuting the case) can file a motion to determine the mental competency of the defendant,” Painter said. “The House managers of the impeachment trial should do just that.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of course, has yet to assign House managers for the upcoming impeachment trial–which could start as early as Wednesday next week. There’s still no indication of who, exactly, those impeachment managers will be. An influential collection of freshman Democrats, however, have floated the idea of Rep. Justin Amash (Independent-Michigan), a Palestinian-American libertarian, constitutional expert and former Republican who left the GOP in disgust at the party’s racism for top role.

“To the extent that this can be bipartisan, it should, and I think including Representative Amash amongst the impeachment managers is a smart move both for the country, for the substance and for the optics,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minnesota) said–noting that Amash is an attorney as well as “the first and only member of the Republican conference, when he was a Republican, to show courage.”

Amash and Pelosi have yet to show their hands on the issue–much less any sort of side-winding strategy to frustrate the historic impeachment inquiry by bringing Democratic Party-sanctioned credence to the oft-repeated anti-Trump resistance claim that the 45th president is mentally unfit to serve.

Far from a picayune issue, the notion that Trump is mentally deteriorating has been brought up on several occasions in the past. An op-ed in USA Today made the case in October 2019. As did a respected psychiatry professor at the illustrious U.T. Southwestern Medical Center later that same month.

Late last year, a group of mental health experts released a statement specific to the impeachment inquiry calling Trump’s mental state into question.

“We are speaking out at this time because we are convinced that, as the time of possible impeachment approaches, Donald Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation,” Yale Medical School Professor Dr. Bandy Lee, George Washington University Professor Dr. John Zinner, and former CIA profiler Dr. Jerrold Post said in a statement sent to the House Judiciary Committee in December.

The idea of keeping Trump from being tried comes amid concerns that the Senate’s impeachment trial will be something of an inverse kangaroo court or sham that will easily vindicate the Republican president absent any testimony from witnesses. Pelosi withheld the articles of impeachment for several days in a bid to exact concessions from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) but was serially out-maneuvered by the GOP. She resigned herself and that failed strategy to defeat on Friday.

Painter offered the following evidence to sideline Trump:

[image via Mark Wilson_Getty Images]

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