In a short video that appeared on Twitter, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, spoke out against the upcoming Senate impeachment trial for former president Donald Trump, comparing it to what one would see “only in the Third World.”
Trump is facing his second impeachment trial, this time on a charge of incitement of insurrection, after a mob of his supporters rioted at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. The Senate trial is scheduled to start next week.
Rubio said that he’d tried everything he could to end the second impeachment trial.
“This is terrible for the country. It sets a terrible precedent,” Rubio said. “Only in the Third World do you see this habitual use of prosecutions of former leaders. You go through Latin America, virtually every immediate past president is under indictment or in jail.”
Rubio’s comment met quick pushback on Twitter from people citing prosecutions in the U.S. and other countries. So PolitiFact decided to check his claim that habitual prosecutions of former leaders happen “only in the Third World.” And we found several examples to prove he’s wrong.
Prosecutions in South Korea, Israel, France, Italy
We asked Rubio’s press team for clarity on Rubio’s definition of “Third World,” but didn’t get a response. The term, considered by some to be outdated and offensive, has usually been used to describe developing nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
There is a common theme among some of the former leaders who have been charged or convicted of crimes after leaving office: Generally, they’ve been accused of corruption.
But plenty of these cases have taken place in some of the most economically developed countries, including South Korea, Israel, France and Italy.
South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye was impeached and eventually removed from office in 2017. She was convicted in 2018 of bribery and other crimes, and her 20-year prison sentence was upheld this year by the nation’s Supreme Court.
Lee Myung-bak, Park’s predecessor as president, is also in prison. In 2018, he was convicted for corruption crimes that happened when he was a presidential candidate and after he took office in 2008. South Korea’s Supreme Court in October upheld a 17-year prison term for Lee.
“Almost all of South Korea’s former presidents, as well as many of its business tycoons, have been implicated in recurring corruption scandals. Four former presidents have been arrested on corruption charges since the 1990s, including Ms. Park and Mr. Lee,” the New York Times reported in October 2020.
In Israel, prosecutors have brought criminal charges against two prime ministers in recent years. Benjamin Netanyahu, who is both a current and former prime minister, is facing charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three corruption cases. Ehud Olmert, who served as Israel’s prime minister from 2006 to 2009, was convicted in 2014 of taking bribes while he was mayor of Jerusalem, and convicted in 2012 of breach of trust.
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In France, Nicolas Sarkozy who was president from 2007 to 2012, just went on trial on charges of corruption and influence-peddling. A verdict is expected in March. Jacques Chirac, president from 1995 to 2007, was convicted in 2011 of embezzling government money when he previously served as mayor of Paris. Chirac’s trial started two years after he left the presidency because courts had ruled he was immune from prosecution while president.
In 2013 in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi was expelled from the Senate following a 2012 conviction for tax fraud. Berlusconi had served three terms as Italy’s prime minister, the last one ending in 2011.
Rubio’s claim ignores various prosecutions and convictions in the United States of former governors and members of Congress. The Center for Illinois Politics maintains a list of convicted governors from around the country, including Illinois’ own former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat who was arrested in 2008 on corruption charges, impeached, removed from office, convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison. He was freed after Trump commuted his sentence in 2020.
In criticizing the Trump impeachment trial, Rubio mentioned Latin American leaders being jailed. But even a conviction in the Senate would not send Trump to jail. The Constitution limits the penalties to removal from office and disqualification from holding future office.
Apart from the impeachment, Trump and his family are facing investigations in New York state over their real estate dealings. No charges have been filed.
Rubio said, “Only in the Third World do you see this habitual use of prosecutions of former leaders.”
This is not true. Developed countries in Europe and Asia have also prosecuted their former leaders in recent years, mainly for corruption. Two former presidents of South Korea, for example, are currently in prison.
We rate Rubio’s claim False.