Impeaching Trump

Print edition : January 05, 2018

Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel who was appointed to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election. Photo: ALEX WONG/AFP

Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AP

The book is an invaluable guide to the drama unfolding on Capitol Hill as a series of exposures threaten to derail the Trump presidency.

During the presidential elections in the United States last year, Professor Allan J. Lichtman made two predictions. One was that Donald Trump would win. It came true and Trump sent him a note of thanks. The other prediction was that Trump would be impeached during his term. It remains to be seen whether this prediction also comes true.

Impeachment is an inherently political process to secure a judicial verdict based on evidence by politicians sitting as judges. Its farce was exposed in India on August 27, 1992, by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s dishonourable conduct. Justice V. Ramaswami went scot-free. We have a lot to learn from what is afoot in the U.S. In Britain, home of the impeachment process, this rusty, obsolete process has been discarded. The last case of impeachment was in 1806.

Calling for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas in 1970, then Congressman Gerald Ford asserted that “an impeachable offence is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history”. Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states: “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The latter expression goes beyond offences defined in the law of crimes. Alexander Hamilton held in The Federalist Papers No. 65 that it covers “offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

One charge concerns violation of the Emoluments Clause, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution. It says that “no person holding any office of profit or trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 22, “One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.”

Trump has used his office to enrich himself and members of his family. His “winter White House”, Mar-a-Lago, a private club he owns, charges a $200,000 initiation fee for members to get access to him, his head-of-state guests, and his staff. Membership fees go as high as $350,000 at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club, where Trump spent his August vacation. One of his first acts as President was a directive reversing a 2015 decision by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act that would have significantly raised water costs at these and other golf courses in which he has invested more than $1 billion over the past 10 years. He has provided free advertising for properties he owns by visiting them on more than 75 days so far, approximately a third of the days he has been in office.

It appears that the main charge he would have to face is obstruction of justice. Trump sacked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey because he refused to stop investigations of “the Russian Scandal”. A lot depends on the results of the investigations by Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel who was appointed to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election last year.

On October 30 this year, Mueller filed his first criminal charges against members of Trump’s presidential campaign. He charged former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his business partner, Rick Gates, with a scheme to conceal some $20 million, much of it earned for lobbying work in Ukraine undertaken for pro-Russian interests. The indictments, to which both men plead not guilty, allege that Manafort spent millions on Range Rovers and landscaping at properties in Florida, Manhattan and the Hamptons. He also dropped $934,000 at an antique rug shop, $849,000 on clothing in New York and $520,000 at a men’s outfitters in Beverley Hills.

A second set of charges concerns a young campaign operative, George Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials. Trump tweeted that “few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar”. Alas for the Trump campaign, the plea deal relates that after being flipped and turned into a “proactive co-operator” by prosecutors, “young George disclosed months of contacts with a London-based academic with Russian ties, ‘the Professor’, and a mysterious ‘Female Russian National’ who were keenly interested in his role with Team Trump, and told him in late April 2016 that the Russian government had ‘dirt’ on Mrs. Clinton in the form of ‘thousands of e-mails’.

“Though the provenance of those e-mails is not clear, the outside world did not learn until June 2016 that embarrassing emails had been stolen from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and learned only in October that e-mails had also been hacked from the account of John Podesta, head of the Clinton campaign. American intelligence chiefs blamed those hacking attacks on Russian military intelligence” ( The Economist: November 4, 2017).

Professor Lichtman’s book is as lucid in style as it is scholarly in substance; a guide for the lay reader as well as the specialist. It covers history, law and politics and is an invaluable guide to the drama as it unfolds itself on Capitol Hill in the U.S. as exposures follow on the damages of Trump’s rogue presidency. When and how will it reach the critical mass that triggers the implosion of such a presidency?

Charges are brought by the House of Representatives for adjudication by the Senate. To lend a veneer of the judicial process, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, himself a political appointee, presides over the farce. In Bill Clinton’s case it was Justice William Rehnquist, an arch Conservative.

Andrew Johnson, impeached in 1868, escaped by a whisker in a one-vote victory. Richard Nixon escaped in 1974 by resigning from his office. Bill Clinton’s impeachment failed in 1998. “One out of every fourteen U.S. Presidents has faced impeachment. Gamblers have become rich betting on longer odds than that,” the author remarks.

The procedure

First, the procedure is clearer than the definition of the impeachable offence. The Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives will conduct the investigation based on the report of the Special Prosecutor and other violations which the book mentions. The Committee’s report goes to the full House for its adoption. It votes on each Article of Impeachment. If the House decides in favour of impeachment, the case goes for a trial by the Senate, the Chief Justice presiding. As against the acquittal of two Presidents, eight judges, appointed for life, were convicted or impeached.

The main issue is whether the Republicans of 2017 will react the way those in 1974 did. “Even early in his presidency, Donald Trump exhibits the same tendencies that led Nixon to violate the most basic standards of morality and threaten the foundations of our democracy. Both Nixon and Trump exhibited a determination to never quit, to win at all costs, to attack and never back down, and to flout conventional rules and restraints. But as ambitious and headstrong as they were, they also shared a compulsion to deflect blame, and they were riddled with insecurities. They exploited the resentments of white working class Americans and split the world into enemies and loyalists. In the first month of his presidency Trump talked more about ‘enemies’ than any other president in history. Neither man allowed the law, the truth, the free press, or the potential for collateral damage to others to impede their personal agendas. They cared little about ideology but very much about adulation and power. They had little use for checks and balances and stretched the reach of presidential authority to its outer limits. They obsessed over secrecy and thirsted for control without dissent.…

“In 1974, two years after winning a landslide victory, Nixon avoided near certain impeachment and removal by becoming the only American president to resign the office. Nixon’s story is the cautionary tale for Donald Trump.”

There has been a concise narrative of Nixon’s fall. John Dean, Nixon’s former White House counsel whose testimony helped uncover the truths of Watergate, warned that Trump could be headed for a Nixonian crash. “The way the Trump presidency is beginning it is safe to say it will end in calamity. It is almost a certainty. Even Republicans know this!”

Trump was a lawbreaker for years in his career as a magnate. “As a private citizen Donald Trump has escaped serious retribution for his crimes and transgressions. He’s settled civil lawsuits charging him with breaking racketeering and civil rights laws, paid fines that he could well afford, protracted litigation, and concealed lawbreaking for many years. There are two avenues of impeachment opened by Trump’s practice of disregarding the law. First, although unlikely, the House of Representatives could vote Articles of Impeachment and the Senate could convict Trump for illegal acts that occurred prior to assuming office. The Constitution specifies no time limits on any of its enumerated impeachable offences. There is no statute of limitations and no judicial review of decisions made by either the House or the Senate. Past actions could also become part of a larger impeachment.

“There are several laws that I believe Trump might break while in office. His expansive view of presidential authority echoes Richard Nixon’s claim that ‘when the President does it, that means that it is not illegal’. Nixon was wrong and paid a heavy price for his error. As the expression goes, history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

The author documents Trump’s violations of the law as President. “These examples demonstrate Trump has also already arguably violated a staggering number of federal and state laws: The Fair Housing Act, The New York charity law, tax laws, the Cuban embargo, casino regulations, the RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations] statute, and laws against employing illegal immigrants. And any number of these laws could, if resurrected through an investigation, trigger impeachment while in office. “The most likely targets of an impeachment inquiry are the illegal operations of his Foundation and his alleged exploitation of undocumented immigrants at his modelling agencies. Both violations are recent and significant. The employment of undocumented immigrants also contradicts one of Trump’s fundamental appeals, to a fundamental theme of the Trump campaign and presidency: to keep American jobs for Americans.

“Impeachment, as I’ve stressed, need not be limited to violations that occur during the President’s term of office. In 2010, the House impeached and the Senate convicted Louisiana district court judge G. Thomas Porteous, at least in part for transgressions committed prior to his assuming the federal judgeship. The Senate convicted Porteous on all four articles that included charges of misconduct while he served as a state court judge and of having lied to the Senate and the FBI during his confirmation process for the federal bench.” The author was a federal prosecutor and State Attorney-General.

Trump arrogantly asserts, “the President can’t have a conflict of interest”. Cases of his conflicts of interest are many. The book discusses this as well as the foreign “emoluments” clause and Trump’s rich history of lies which was known to all years before the election; not least because of Trump’s 1987 book The Art of the Deal.

Russian connection

Particularly interesting is Chapter 8 on “The Russian Connections”. A Report of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, dated January 6, 2017, concluded: “We assess Russian President Vladmir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” Evidence piles up day after day to support these findings. It depends on how far Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report will go to damn Donald Trump himself.

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