Impeachment and the Stone Verdict Show Trump Is Surrounded by Criminals
But as Trump’s constant boil of rage attests, those efforts have hardly failed. The legal ring surrounding him is collectively producing a historic indictment of his endemic corruption and criminality.
Day two of the House impeachment hearings, featuring Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, may have appeared on the surface to focus on a sideshow. Yovanovitch was not directly involved in Trump’s efforts to extort Ukraine for political advantage, the main charge he faces. What her testimony instead accomplished was to put the lie to Trump’s ludicrous defense that he was pursuing an anti-corruption agenda in Ukraine — that his demands that Kiev investigate his rivals were simply about cleaning the country up.
The lawyer for House Republicans asked Yovanovitch to affirm that “the president has long-standing concerns about corruption in the Ukraine.” Her response was savage: “That’s what he says.” Her testimony was devoted to proving the hypocrisy of Trump’s claim. She testified how she had worked in Ukraine to promote reform, how her efforts to do so alienated corrupt oligarchs there, and how those oligarchs then worked in tandem with Rudy Giuliani to foment a backlash against her. She explained that the fired Ukrainian prosecutor that Trump praised to Ukraine’s president in a July phone call was in fact totally corrupt.
Yovanovitch recounted that she learned of her firing while presenting an award for a Ukrainian attacked for her reform efforts, a completely fitting juxtaposition. Trump fired Yovanovitch because she stood in the way of the corruption he and his allies were promoting. To the extent corruption motivated Trump’s diplomatic posture in Ukraine, it was that he wanted to encourage more of it.
During Yovanovitch’s testimony, a federal court registered a guilty verdict on all seven counts for Trump’s adviser Roger Stone. Stone’s crimes involved lying and covering up Trump’s awareness of Democratic emails stolen by Russians. Rick Gates, Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign chairman, told investigators that he personally witnessed a July 31, 2016, phone call between Trump and Stone shortly after WikiLeaks published a tranche of stolen emails. After hanging up with Stone, Trump announced more information was on its way.
As president, Trump has enjoyed an advantage that in his days in business he could only have dreamed of: He can pardon anybody, giving him a powerful tool to induce his henchmen to avoid incriminating him. The two figures in his campaign who most directly colluded with Russia, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, both refused to cooperate with Mueller. Whatever they know about Trump’s full collusion with Russia’s campaign hacking will remain secret, probably forever.
And yet, even if he pardons Manafort and Stone, and all his other loyalists, the plain fact will remain that his inner circle is marked by endemic criminality. In addition to his close adviser Stone, his campaign manager (Manafort), his deputy campaign manager (Gates), his lawyer (Michael Cohen), and his national security adviser (Michael Flynn) have all been convicted of felonies. Trump may have persuaded his hard-core base that all these convictions represent a fraudulent witch hunt. But outside the Trump cult, which is not by itself large enough to win the election, being surrounded by criminals is not an admired quality.
In all probability, the parade of charges is probably not over. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is reportedly being investigated for a number of alleged federal crimes, including bribing foreign officials, conspiracy, violating federal campaign-finance laws, and failing to register as a foreign agent. The Wall Street Journal reports today that federal prosecutors are investigating whether Giuliani personally stood to profit from a natural-gas shakedown run by his partners, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
Parnas and Fruman, two figures linked to the Russian mob who have been arrested, were helping Giuliani run his off-the-books diplomatic work in Ukraine. The benefit to Trump, who was not paying Giuliani anything, was getting muscle on the ground who would get the Ukrainians to understand a message regular diplomats had been too squeamish to convey directly: that Trump wanted investigations of his enemies. But at the same time they were doing this work for Trump, they were allegedly working to get themselves a taste of the proceeds from the shakedown. Parnas and Fruman were pushing Ukraine to give them some natural-gas importing business as a kind of payoff, and using their connection to Trump as clout.
If Rudy himself was involved in the gas shakedown, as the Journal story suggests, it would be an even deeper form of corruption. Trump’s lawyer and personal representative would have sent gangsters to extort Ukraine for Trump’s political gain and his own profit. The false accusations Trump has hurled against Biden are pale versions of the very real crimes Trump’s cronies have tried to carry out.
American politics has rarely been a pristine affair. Trump exploited widespread cynicism to indict the entire political Establishment in hyperbolic terms as wholly corrupt, presenting himself as a reformer from the outside. Surely nobody expected him to fulfill this promise literally. Yet the full scale of his betrayal is staggering. Trump will probably not become as the first president to be impeached and removed from office, but he will go down in history as the most criminal president in American history.
This Is No Ordinary Impeachment
By Andrew Sullivan
This is not just an impeachment. It’s the endgame for Trump’s relentless assault on the institutions, norms, and practices of America’s liberal democracy for the past three years. It’s also a deeper reckoning. It’s about whether the legitimacy of our entire system can last much longer without this man being removed from office.
I’m talking about what political scientists call “regime cleavage” — a decline in democratic life so severe the country’s very institutions could lose legitimacy as a result of it. It is described by one political scientist as follows: “a division within the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself — in the American case, our constitutional democracy. In societies facing a regime cleavage, a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions, and laws may be ignored, subverted, or replaced.” A full-on regime cleavage is, indeed, an extinction-level event for our liberal democratic system. And it is one precipitated by the man who is supposed to be the guardian of that system, the president.
Let us count the ways in which Trump has attacked and undermined the core legitimacy of our democracy. He is the only candidate in American history who refused to say that he would abide by the results of the vote. Even after winning the 2016 election, he still claimed that “millions” of voters — undocumented aliens — perpetrated massive electoral fraud in the last election, and voted for his opponent. He has repeatedly and publicly toyed with the idea that he could violate the 22nd Amendment, and get elected for three terms, or more.
He consistently described a perfectly defensible inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 election as a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” demonizing Robert Mueller, even as Mueller, in the end, couldn’t find evidence to support the idea of a conspiracy with Russia (perhaps in part because Trump ordered no cooperation, and refused to testify under oath). Trump then withheld release of the full report, while his pliant attorney general distorted its content and wrongly proclaimed that Trump had been entirely exonerated.
In the current scandal over Ukraine, Trump is insisting that he did “nothing wrong” in demanding that Ukraine announce investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden, or forfeit desperately needed military aid. If that is the president’s position — that he can constitutionally ask any other country to intervene on his behalf in a U.S. election — it represents a view of executive power that is the equivalent of a mob boss’s. It is best summed up in Trump’s own words: Article 2 of the Constitution permits him to do “anything I want.”
We have become so used to these attacks on our constitutional order that we fail to be shocked by Trump’s insistence that a constitutional impeachment inquiry is a “coup.” By any measure, this is an extraordinary statement, and itself an impeachable offense as a form of “contempt for Congress.” We barely blink anymore when a president refuses to cooperate in any way, demands his underlings refuse to testify and break the law by flouting subpoenas, threatens to out the first whistle-blower’s identity (in violation of the law), or assaults and tries to intimidate witnesses, like Colonel Alexander Vindman.
He seems to think in the Ukraine context that “l’état c’est moi” is the core American truth, rather than a French monarch’s claims to absolute power. He believes in the kind of executive power the Founders designed the U.S. Constitution to prevent. It therefore did not occur to Trump that blackmailing a foreign country to investigate his political opponents is a classic abuse of power, because he is incapable of viewing his own interests and the interests of the United States as in any way distinct. But it is a core premise of our liberal democracy that the powers of the presidency are merely on loan, and that using them to advance a personal interest is a definition of an abuse of power.
There are valid criticisms and defenses of Trump’s policy choices, but his policies are irrelevant for an impeachment. I actually support a humane crackdown on undocumented immigration, a tougher trade stance toward China, and an attempt, at least, to end America’s endless wars. But what matters, and what makes this such a vital moment in American history, is that it has nothing to do with policy. This is simply about Trump’s abuse of power.
He lies and misleads the American public constantly, in an outright attempt to so confuse Americans that they forget or reject the concept of truth altogether. Lies are part of politics, but we have never before seen such a fire hose of often contradictory or inflammatory bald-faced lies from the Oval Office. He has obstructed justice countless times, by witness tampering, forbidding his subordinates from complying with legal subpoenas, and by “using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct” both the Mueller and now the Ukraine investigations. (I quote from Article 1 of Nixon’s impeachment.) Trump has also “failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives … and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas.” (I quote from Article III of Nixon’s impeachment.) He has declared legal processes illegitimate if they interfere with or constrain his whims and impulses.
This is not just another kind of presidency; it is a rolling and potentially irreversible assault on the legitimacy of the American regime. If the CIA finds something that could reflect poorly on him, then the CIA is part of the “deep state coup.” Ditto the FBI and the State Department. These are not old-fashioned battles with a bureaucracy over policy; that’s fine. They are assaults on the legitimacy of the bureaucracy, and the laws they are required to uphold. These are definitional impeachable offenses, and they are part and parcel of Trump’s abuse of power from the day he was elected.
And most important of all, Trump has turned the GOP — one of our two major parties with a long and distinguished history — into an accomplice in his crimes. Senator Lindsey Graham, perhaps the most contemptible figure of the last couple of years, even says he will not read witness transcripts or follow the proceedings in the House or consider the evidence in a legal impeachment inquiry, because he regards the whole impeachment process as “BS” and a “sham.” This is a senator calling the constitutional right of the House of Representatives to impeach a president illegitimate.
And the GOP as a whole has consistently backed Trump rather than the Constitution. Sixty-two percent of Republican supporters have said that there is nothing Trump could do, no crime or war crime, no high crime or misdemeanor, that would lead them to vote against him in 2020. There is only one way to describe this, and that is a cult, completely resistant to reason or debate. The tribalism is so deep that Trump seems incapable of dropping below 40 percent in the national polls, and is competitive in many swing states. The cult is so strong that Trump feels invulnerable. If Trump survives impeachment, and loses the 2020 election, he may declare it another coup, rigged, and illegitimate. He may refuse to concede. And it is possible the GOP will follow his lead. That this is even thinkable reveals the full extent of our constitutional rot.
Trump has fast-forwarded “regime cleavage.” He is appealing to the people to render him immune from constitutional constraints imposed by the representatives of the people. He has opened up not a divide between right and left so much as a divide over whether the American system of government is legitimate or illegitimate. And that is why I don’t want to defeat Trump in an election, because that would suggest that his assault on the truth, on the Constitution, and on the rule of law is just a set of policy decisions that we can, in time, reject. It creates a precedent for future presidents to assault the legitimacy of the American government, constrained only by their ability to win the next election. In fact, the only proper constitutional response to this abuse of executive power is impeachment. I know I’ve said this before. But on the eve of public hearings, it is vital to remember it.
None of this presidential behavior is tolerable. If the Senate exonerates Trump, it will not just enable the most lawless president in our history to even greater abuses. It will deepen the regime cleavage even further. It will cast into doubt the fairness of the upcoming election. It will foment the conspiracy theory that our current laws and institutions are manifestations of a “deep state” engineering a “coup.” It will prove that a president can indeed abuse his power for his personal advantage without consequence; and it will set a precedent that fundamentally changes the American system from a liberal democracy to a form of elected monarchy, above the other two branches of government.
I wish there were another way forward. But there isn’t. And this, though a moment of great danger, also contains the glimmers of renewal. Removing this petty, shabby tyrant from office goes a long way to restoring and resetting the Constitution as a limit on power and a guarantee against its wanton future abuse. It must be done. With speed, with vigor, and with determination.
Is Trump the Worst President in History?
by Richard Striner
Richard Striner, a professor of history at Washington College, is the author of many books including Father Abraham: Lincoln’s Relentless Struggle to End Slavery and Lincoln’s Way: How Six Great Presidents Created American Power.
As the chance of getting rid of Donald Trump — through impeachment or by voting him out — continues to dominate the headlines, the historical challenge is compelling. No president has been a greater threat to the qualities that make the United States of America worthy (at its best) of our allegiance.
The rise of Trump and his movement was so freakish that historians will analyze its nature for a long time. From his origins as a real estate hustler, this exhibitionist sought attention as a TV vulgarian. Susceptible television viewers found his coarse behavior amusing. Then he announced that he was running for the presidency and it looked for a while like just another cheap publicity stunt.
But his name-calling tactics struck a chord with a certain group of voters. Our American scene began to darken. Before long, he was hurling such vicious abuse that it ushered in a politics of rage. As his egomania developed into full megalomania, the “alt-right” gravitated toward him.
The “movement” had started.
More and more, to the horror of everyone with power to see and understand, he showed a proto-fascist mentality. So alarms began to spread: mental health professionals warned that he exemplifies “malignant narcissism.”
Never before in American history has the presidential office passed into the hands of a seditionist. And the use of this term is appropriate. With no conception of principles or limits — “I want” is his political creed —he mocks the rule of law at every turn.
At a police convention in 2017, he urged the officers in attendance to ignore their own regulations and brutalize the people they arrest. He pardoned ex-Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt of court. He appointed Scott Pruitt to head the EPA so he could wreck the agency and let polluters have the spree of their lives.
Trump is fascinated by powerful dictators with little regard to human rights or democracy. He compliments Vladimir Putin and hopes to invite that murderer to stay in the White House. He likes Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, a tyrant who subverts that nation’s democracy.
So, Trump certainly has the personality of a fascist. But he is not quite as dangerous as other authoritarians in history.
In the first place, he lacks the fanatical vision that drove the great tyrants like Hitler and Stalin to pursue their sick versions of utopia. He is nothing but a grubby opportunist. He has no ideas, only appetites. The themes that pass for ideas in the mind of Donald Trump begin as prompts that are fed to him by others — Stephen Miller, Sean Hannity, and (once upon a time) Steve Bannon. To be sure, he would fit right in among the despots who tyrannize banana-republics. But that sort of a political outcome in America is hard to envision at the moment.
Second, American traditions — though our current crisis shows some very deep flaws in our constitutional system — are strong enough to place a limit on the damage Trump can do. If he ordered troops to occupy the Capitol, disperse the members of Congress, and impose martial law, the chance that commanders or troops would carry out such orders is nil.
Third, Americans have faced challenges before. Many say he is our very worst president — bar none. And how tempting it is to agree. But a short while ago, people said the same thing about George W. Bush, who of course looks exemplary now when compared to our presidential incumbent.
The “worst president.”
“Worst,” of course, is a value judgment that is totally dependent on our standards for determining “badness.” And any number of our presidents were very bad indeed — or so it could be argued.
Take Andrew Jackson, with his belligerence, his simple-mindedness, his racism as reflected in the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Take all the pro-slavery presidents before the Civil War who tried to make the enslavement of American blacks perpetual: John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan. Take James K. Polk and his squalid war of aggression against Mexico. Take Andrew Johnson, who did everything he could to ruin the lives of the newly-freed blacks after Lincoln’s murder.
The list could go on indefinitely, depending on our individual standards for identifying “badness.” Shall we continue? Consider Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding, so clueless in regard to the comparatively easy challenge of preventing corruption among their associates. Or consider Grover Cleveland and Herbert Hoover, who blinded themselves to the desperation of millions in economic depressions. And Richard Nixon, the only president to date who has resigned the office in disgrace.
Which brings us to Trump.
However incompetent or even malevolent some previous American presidents were, this one is unique. The Trump presidency is a singular aberration, a defacement of norms and ideals without precedent. However bad some other presidents were all of them felt a certain basic obligation to maintain at least a semblance of dignity and propriety in their actions.
Foul beyond words, he lurches from one brutal whim to another, seeking gratification in his never-ending quest to humiliate others. He spews insults in every direction all day. He makes fun of the handicapped. He discredits journalists in order to boost the credibility of crackpots and psychopathic bigots. He accuses reporters of creating “fake news” so he can generate fake news himself: spew a daily torrent of hallucinatory lies to his gullible followers.
He amuses himself — with the help of his money and the shyster lawyers that it pays for — in getting away with a lifetime’s worth of compulsive frauds that might very well lead to prosecutions (later) if the evidence has not been destroyed and if the statute of limitations has not expired.
So far, however, he is always too brazen to get what he deserves, too slippery for anyone to foil.
Anyone with half of ounce of decency can see this wretched man for what he is. They know what’s going on, and yet there’s nothing they can do to make it stop. And that adds to Trump’s dirty satisfaction. Any chance to out-maneuver the decent — to infuriate them — quickens his glee. It makes his victory all the more rotten, incites him to keep on taunting his victims.
It’s all a big joke to Donald Trump, and he can never, ever, get enough of it.
The question must be asked: when in our lifetimes — when in all the years that our once-inspiring Republic has existed — have American institutions been subjected to such treatment? How long can American morale and cohesion survive this?
Nancy Pelosi has said that in preference to seeing Trump impeached, she would like to see him in jail. Current Justice Department policy — which forbids the indictment of presidents — makes it possible for Trump to break our nation’s laws with impunity. Impeachment is useless if the Senate’s Republicans, united in their ruthlessness and denial, take the coward’s way out.
So the prospect of locking him up may have to wait. But the day of reckoning for this fake — this imposter who will never have a glimmer of clue as to how to measure up to his office — may come in due time. Then the presidential fake who accuses his victims of fakery will live with some things that are real: stone walls, iron bars, a nice prison haircut, and the consequences of his actions.
Field of Anonymous Trump Donors Getting Crowded
WASHINGTON -- Last year, when a "senior administration official" wrote an anonymous New York Times opinion piece -- "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration" -- the unknown author's essay prompted praise and approbation.
Now, we learn, it has spawned a book.
"The dilemma -- which (Trump) does not fully grasp," Anonymous wrote in September 2018, "is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know. I am one of them."
Critics on the right called the author a coward for penning a piece under the cloak of anonymity. Critics on the left pounced on the author's failure to openly denounce Trump -- the only act that they would consider courageous.
Trump branded the piece "TREASON" and urged then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to find the dirty rat.
Journalists did not miss the irony in the author's identification as a "senior administration official." The Trump White House was indignant, even though the press office routinely conducts briefings after directing reporters to identify the briefers as "senior administration officials." Then Team Trump denounced the press for relying on unnamed sources.
I saw the piece as confirmation that good people worked in the administration out of a sense of public service -- and that some stayed because they felt a duty to curb Trump's worst instincts. The book deal, alas, suggests the unknown civil servant has a hunger for self-promotion, as well as a poor sense of timing.
For one thing, the Mueller report tells voters everything they need to know about Trump. To wit: There was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. And Trump frequently pushed those around him to do his dirty work, and they often failed to do his bidding.
Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, for example, chose not to tell Sessions to "unrecuse" himself from the Russian probe, lest Trump fire him. Instead, Lewandowski passed on the assignment to a White House aide, who also chose not to act.
In words that echoed the New York Times piece, special counsel Robert Mueller wrote, "The president's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."
Trump voters don't care. They believe the Russian probe was a witch hunt. Who can blame them? Mueller allowed the investigation to slog on long past any reasonable suspicion that Moscow was pulling Trump's strings. Federal officials throwing everything they've got at Trump isn't really a good look right now.
The field of anonymous Trump accusers is getting crowded. In August, an identity-shielded whistleblower came forward with a complaint that "the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election." It was in reference to a July 25 phone call during which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to look for political dirt that could be used in next year's presidential race.
The unidentified whistleblower's lawyer said he represents another unidentified whistleblower. Democrats argue these individuals must be shielded for their own protection, but everyone knows they'll be feted as heroes when their identities -- predictably -- are revealed.
Book deals? You know it.
Perhaps the anonymous New York Times author decided to cut a deal to beat the pack of Ukraine scolds.
House Democrats have even been holding impeachment hearings behind closed doors to question known individuals. After releasing damning tidbits, they've yet to release full testimony. In contrast, Trump made public a rough transcript of the July 25 conversation.
If there's something voters don't know that Anonymous thinks they need to, he or she could pen another op-ed, not a bestseller -- or better yet, with an election a year away, come forward and face the wrath of the right in the light of day.
Of course, Anonymous has an agent. Matt Latimer told CNN that the author of the 272-page "A Warning," published by Twelve, a division of Hachette, "refused the chance at a seven-figure advance and intends to donate a substantial amount of any royalties to the White House Correspondents Association and other organizations that fight for a press that seeks the truth."
As a member of the association, I suppose I should be grateful and not at all curious about how much of the proceeds will go to worthy causes. If only I knew whom to thank.
Contact Debra J. Saunders at email@example.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.
The Kitchen-Table Case for Impeaching Trump
The president’s abuses of power are materially hurting regular people.
After months of waiting, the House Judiciary Committee has finally voted to open an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. With that tedious “will-they-or-won’t-they” question out of the way, the logical next question is: can impeachment succeed? The answer is a resounding yes. But getting there will require a strategic reorientation away from a sluggish and legalistic examination of Trump’s offenses via recalcitrant witnesses and toward a broader consideration of how his systemic abuses of power have materially hurt regular people.
The continued reticence of so many Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to support impeachment is based on two premises. The first is that impeachment is modestly unpopular, which is true, so far as it goes. The second is the conventional wisdom that impeaching President Clinton backfired on House Republicans.
Look a little closer at the second contention, however, and it quickly falls apart. The case against Trump is vastly stronger than that against Clinton. While Clinton’s alleged crimes were largely committed in the interest of avoiding embarrassment, Trump’s represent clear abuses of power with malignant implications. The second flank of the argument—that impeaching Clinton “backfired” on Republicans—is more myth than reality. Republicans may have lost the House in the next election cycle, but Clinton’s impeachment was a nontrivial factor in Al Gore’s 2000 loss. Therefore, we join other observers in choosing to view this “example” as evidence in support of impeaching Trump.
But the polling argument is particularly short-sighted. Voters take cues from political leaders about how to react to political events. For months, the overwhelming cue on impeachment from Democratic leaders like Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Joe Biden has been to stand down. This inhibition has created a negative feedback loop in which impeachment-phobic lawmakers convince voters not to support impeachment, and then point to lukewarm public support to justify their passivity. Rinse and repeat.
Five months after the release of the Mueller report, this message has pretty well stuck. After all, if the special counsel’s findings were so serious, they should have been acted on immediately, right? Much as a gourmet meal is never as good reheated, Democrats cannot expect to ignore evidence of impeachable conduct in the spring and have it be as fresh and tasty when zapped in the autumn. Just take a gander at this week’s House Judiciary hearing with Corey Lewandowski to see how unappetizing this fare has become.
While the Mueller report surely provided enough evidence to justify impeaching Trump on substantive grounds, hesitant lawmakers have largely drained it of much of its political force (and impeachment is an inherently political process).
To overcome this damage, impeachment backers will have to make opposition to impeachment untenable with voters, thereby short-circuiting the aforementioned negative feedback loop. That means focusing on the ways in which Trump’s corruption has made life harder and more dangerous for millions of Americans. In other words, impeachment should focus above all on his failure to carry out his constitutional duty under Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” By emphasizing how impeachment is relevant to the “kitchen-table” issues that keep regular people up at night—like low wages or exorbitant healthcare premiums—the House Judiciary Committee can inspire a swell of grassroots pressure that will give reluctant legislators no choice but to back the effort.
The issues tackled in Mueller’s report, like obstruction of justice, are removed from people’s day-to-day lives. Of course, there is nothing inherently insufficient with such a basis for impeachment; were it not for the Democratic leadership’s opposition, impeachment proceedings would have begun in April. Still, more Americans agonize over how to pay back their student loans, or whether to incur the costs of seeing a doctor when uninsured, than discuss “the role of law.” The Mueller report, therefore. likely strikes most Americans as “political” and is less likely to inspire new broad-based support for impeachment.
The same goes for the proposed lines of inquiry in Judiciary’s newly expanded investigations. The committee will reportedly examine Trump’s alleged abuse of presidential pardons, hush-money payments, and use of office for personal enrichment. While these scandals are undoubtedly important, they don’t penetrate the lives of ordinary people.
That doesn’t mean that Democrats should not pursue any of these alleged crimes; the public deserves to know as much as possible about any president’s corruption, and Congress is best suited to furnish those answers. But these matters should not sit alone at the center of the Democrats’ case for impeachment. An impeachment inquiry is a way to control the national conversation. While bills passed by House Democrats predictably get little attention from most of the media, an impeachment hearing is guaranteed to achieve the scarcest political resource in 2019—the attention of voters.
Given that platform, lawmakers have a lot to choose from. In light of recent revelations that the number of uninsured people has risen for the first time since 2009, lawmakers might want to start by investigating how Trump has undermined the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
You might say that Trump’s health care moves are reprehensible, but are they really impeachable? Ask Thaddeus Stevens, the Pennsylvania representative who was the catalyst behind Andrew Johnson’s impeachment and the author of an article of impeachment accusing Johnson of failing to “take care” that the Tenure of Office Act be faithfully executed. Other articles accused Johnson of offenses including insulting Congress and unlawfully firing his Secretary of War, but this one got at his most serious transgression: failing to honor and enforce the laws as Congress had intended.
Trump has made no secret of his disdain for Obama’s healthcare law, but whether he likes it or not, it’s his duty to administer it unless and until Congress passes a new one or repeals it. Rather than faithfully carrying out that responsibility, Trump has sought to destroy the law. On his first day in office, he signed an executive order directing agencies to use all of the tools at their disposal to undermine the statute—and they have faithfully complied. His administration also shortened the open enrollment period, cut ACA’s advertising budget, and slashed tax credits for enrollees. Trump is not coy about his intentions. “I have just about ended Obamacare,” he once said. Congress should demonstrate its commitment to improving Americans’ health care access by nailing Trump for his considerable efforts to “end” a lawful program by executive action that he could not repeal legislatively.
There are other matters that need a deeper probe. Lawmakers should investigate whether Trump’s administration has intentionally slowed the allocation of aid to Puerto Rico. Last week, as Puerto Ricans braced for Hurricane Dorian’s potential landfall, many did so without a proper roof over their heads, surrounded by many other reminders of Hurricane Maria’s destruction. This hardly seems like an accident: two years after Maria, the scandal-riddled Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has only approved funding for nine projects out of 10,000 applications. Meanwhile, in an unprecedented move, the executive branch is holding up a Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) headed for the U.S. territory. The administration’s refusal to effectively administer this recovery aid is not some distant problem. Puerto Ricans (including the diaspora living in Florida and elsewhere on the U.S. mainland) feel it every day in the way of destroyed roads, damaged schools, the lack of a proper roof over many of their heads, or having been forced to leave the island altogether.
It seems impossible to imagine that Trump’s failure “to take care” is unrelated to the animus he has shown toward Latinx communities since the day he announced his presidential campaign. More broadly, it is even harder to argue that a president can faithfully execute the law under our Constitution when he openly views the government’s obligations to people as dependent on their race or religion—as his “Muslim ban” makes evidently clear.
Lawmakers should also look into Trump’s decision to allow three unconfirmed, unqualified, Mar-a-Lago members to essentially run the Department of Veterans’ Affairs from the resort. Has Trump’s reliance on his paying customers to run the VA in any way hurt the millions of veterans who rely on the department’s services each year? The public has a right to know. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs opened an investigation into these puppeteers last winter, but the administration’s stonewalling appears to have hindered meaningful progress.
Trump’s appointees have harmed regular people in myriad other ways. Take, for example, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ failure to administer loan forgiveness programs, even after having been ordered by a court to do so. That has left thousands of people suffering under the crushing yoke of student loans they were promised would be discharged. At the same time, her department’s laughable oversight of loan servicers is delaying forgiveness for hundreds of thousands more. Given her absolute disregard for her responsibilities as Education Secretary, why has she not been removed? Quite clearly, Trump feels no compunction about running afoul of his obligation to “take care” to execute the law, even if that means flat out ignoring court orders.
House members must not only persuade voters to embrace impeachment with the righteousness of their case, but also with the urgency of their actions. That means issuing subpoenas far more liberally—and suing when necessary to enforce them without delay. Indeed, the fact that Trump admits “we are fighting all the subpoenas” reflects acknowledgement that he is undermining Congressional oversight, which was itself a key element of the third article of impeachment against Richard Nixon.
Basic political horse sense suggests that investigating how Trump’s team is hiding evidence of their alleged lawlessness would help generate attention to the actions they are covering up. If pursued effectively, such a probe can impose a steep political cost.
Ultimately, Congress should view its investigatory scope broadly. It should vigorously examine as many instances of Trump’s corruption as possible. But his crimes against the American people should sit at the center of their effort.
To treat them as secondary, as lawmakers have done thus far, misses the larger point. The intentional harm Trump has inflicted on Americans, whom he is tasked with protecting, represents by far his most egregious violation of his Constitutional oath of office. Lawmakers should respond accordingly.
The (Full) Case for Impeachment
A menu of high crimes and misdemeanors.
The crimes for which impeachment is the prescribed punishment are notoriously undefined. And that’s for a reason: Presidential powers are vast, and it’s impossible to design laws to cover every possible abuse of the office’s authority. House Democrats have calculated that an impeachment focused narrowly on the Ukraine scandal will make the strongest legal case against President Trump. But that’s not Trump’s only impeachable offense. A full accounting would include a wide array of dangerous and authoritarian acts — 82, to be precise. His violations fall into seven broad categories of potentially impeachable misconduct that should be weighed, if not by the House, then at least by history.
I. Abusing Power for Political Gain
Explanation: The single most dangerous threat to any democratic system is that the ruling party will use its governing powers to entrench itself illegitimately.
Evidence: (1) The Ukraine scandal is fundamentally about the president abusing his authority by wielding his power over foreign policy as a cudgel against his domestic opponents. The president is both implicitly and explicitly trading the U.S. government’s favor for investigations intended to create adverse publicity for Americans whom Trump wishes to discredit. (2) During his campaign, he threatened to impose policies harmful to Amazon in retribution for critical coverage in the Washington Post. (“If I become president, oh do they have problems.”) He has since pushed the postmaster general to double rates on Amazon, and the Defense Department held up a $10 billion contract with Amazon, almost certainly at his behest. (3) He has ordered his officials to block the AT&T–Time Warner merger as punishment for CNN’s coverage of him. (4) He encouraged the NFL to blacklist Colin Kaepernick.
II. Mishandling Classified Information
Explanation: As he does with many other laws, the president enjoys broad immunity from regulations on the proper handling of classified information, allowing him to take action that would result in felony convictions for other federal employees. President Trump’s mishandling of classified information is not merely careless but a danger to national security.
Evidence: (5) Trump has habitually communicated on a smartphone highly vulnerable to foreign espionage. (6–30) He has reversed 25 security-clearance denials (including for his son-in-law, who has conducted potentially compromising business with foreign interests). (31) He has turned Mar-a-Lago into an unsecured second White House and even once handled news of North Korea’s missile launch in public view. (32) He gave Russian officials sensitive Israeli intelligence that blew “the most valuable source of information on external plotting by [the] Islamic State,” the Wall Street Journal reported. (33) He tweeted a high-resolution satellite image of an Iranian launch site for the sake of boasting.
III. Undermining Duly Enacted Federal Law
Explanation: President Trump has abused his authority either by distorting the intent of laws passed by Congress or by flouting them. He has directly ordered subordinates to violate the law and has promised pardons in advance, enabling him and his staff to operate with impunity. In these actions, he has undermined Congress’s constitutional authority to make laws.
Evidence: (34) Having failed to secure funding authority for a border wall, President Trump unilaterally ordered funds to be moved from other budget accounts. (35) He has undermined regulations on health insurance under the Affordable Care Act preventing insurers from charging higher rates to customers with more expensive risk profiles. (36) He has abused emergency powers to impose tariffs, intended to protect the supply chain in case of war, to seize from Congress its authority to negotiate international trade agreements. (37–38) He has ordered border agents to illegally block asylum seekers from entering the country and has ordered other aides to violate eminent-domain laws and contracting procedures in building the border wall, (39–40) both times promising immunity from lawbreaking through presidential pardons.
IV. Obstruction of Congress
Explanation: The executive branch and Congress are co-equal, each intended to guard against usurpation of authority by the other. Trump has refused to acknowledge any legitimate oversight function of Congress, insisting that because Congress has political motivations, it is disqualified from it. His actions and rationale strike at the Constitution’s design of using the political ambitions of the elected branches to check one another.
Evidence: (41) Trump has refused to abide by a congressional demand to release his tax returns, despite an unambiguous law granting the House this authority. His lawyers have flouted the law on the spurious grounds that subpoenas for his tax returns “were issued to harass President Donald J. Trump, to rummage through every aspect of his personal finances, his businesses and the private information of the president and his family, and to ferret about for any material that might be used to cause him political damage.” Trump’s lawyers have argued that Congress cannot investigate potentially illegal behavior by the president because the authority to do so belongs to prosecutors. In other litigation, those lawyers have argued that prosecutors cannot investigate the president. These contradictory positions support an underlying stance that no authority can investigate his misconduct. (42) He has defended his refusal to accept oversight on the grounds that members of Congress “aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.” (43) The president has also declared that impeachment is illegal and should be stopped in the courts (though, unlike with his other obstructive acts, he has not yet taken any legal action toward this end).
V. Obstruction of Justice
Explanation: By virtue of his control over the federal government’s investigative apparatus, the president (along with the attorney general) is uniquely well positioned to cover up his own misconduct. Impeachment is the sole available remedy for a president who uses his powers of office to hold himself immune from legal accountability. In particular, the pardon power gives the president almost unlimited authority to obstruct investigations by providing him with a means to induce the silence of co-conspirators.
Evidence: (44–53) The Mueller report contains ten instances of President Trump engaging in obstructive acts. While none of those succeeded in stopping the probe, Trump dangled pardons and induced his co-conspirators to lie or withhold evidence from investigators. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress that Trump had directed him to lie to it about his negotiations with the Russian government during the campaign to secure a lucrative building contract in Moscow. And when Cohen stated his willingness to lie, Robert Costello, an attorney who had worked with Rudy Giuliani, emailed Cohen assuring him he could “sleep well tonight” because he had “friends in high places.” Trump has publicly praised witnesses in the Russia investigation for refusing to cooperate, and he sent a private message to former national-security adviser Michael Flynn urging him to “stay strong.” He has reinforced this signal by repeatedly denouncing witnesses who cooperate with investigators as “flippers.” (54–61) He has exercised his pardon power for a series of Republican loyalists, sending a message that at least some of his co-conspirators have received. The president’s pardon of conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza “has to be a signal to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort and even Robert S. Mueller III: Indict people for crimes that don’t pertain to Russian collusion and this is what could happen,” Roger Stone told the Washington Post. “The special counsel has awesome powers, as you know, but the president has even more awesome powers.”
VI. Profiting From Office
Explanation: Federal employees must follow strict rules to prevent them from being influenced by any financial conflict. Conflict-of-interest rules are less clear for a sitting president because all presidential misconduct will be resolved by either reelection or impeachment. If Trump held any position in the federal government below the presidency, he would have been fired for his obvious conflicts. His violations are so gross and blatant they merit impeachment.
Evidence: (62) He has maintained a private business while holding office, (63) made decisions that influence that business, (64) and accepted payments from parties both domestic and foreign who have an interest in his policies. (65) He has openly signaled that these parties can gain his favor by doing so. (66) He has refused even to disclose his interests, which would at least make public which parties are paying him.
VII. Fomenting Violence
Explanation: One of the unspoken roles of the president is to serve as a symbolic head of state. Presidents have very wide latitude for their political rhetoric, but Trump has violated its bounds, exceeding in his viciousness the rhetoric of Andrew Johnson (who was impeached in part for the same offense).
Evidence: (67) Trump called for locking up his 2016 opponent after the election. (68–71) He has clamored for the deportation of four women of color who are congressional representatives of the opposite party. (72) He has described a wide array of domestic political opponents as treasonous, including the news media. (73–80) On at least eight occasions, he has encouraged his supporters — including members of the armed forces — to attack his political opponents. (“I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump — I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.”) (81) He has threatened journalists with violence if they fail to produce positive coverage. (“If the media would write correctly and write accurately and write fairly, you’d have a lot less violence in the country.”) (82) There have been 36 criminal cases nationwide in which the defendant invoked Trump’s name in connection with violence; 29 of these cited him as the inspiration for an attack.