Back in January 2016, while on the campaign trail, Donald Trump boasted that he could shoot somebody without losing voters.
Obviously this was a bit of a morbid hyperbole. Trump, in his usual classy way, was simply bragging about his popularity. Like any number of stereotypical rich high school jocks, he’s asserting his dominance via what matters most to him – public acclaim. Well, that, and intimidation. Trump is to modern politics what William Zabka was to 80’s teen flicks.
Despite sweeping the injured leg of the American political system, Trump does still enjoy nearly universal support from elected officials in his own party. Mild clucking from Lindsey Graham and John McCain has been the strongest opposition Trump has faced from the GOP. It seems like no matter what Trump does, no matter how much corruption he demonstrates, no matter how many lies he tells, or mistakes he makes, Republicans will give him a pass. Not only will they give him a pass, but they will also fight Democratic efforts to hold him accountable.
On issue after issue, Trump has shown he can say and do whatever he wants. The media may correct him, comedians may mock him, and Democrats may scold him. But those in power (the Republican Congress) have done little to push back against his most egregious sins. And I want to talk about some of those now.
First of all, I want to stick with truly serious topics. A dishonest, unprofessional president is a problem, no doubt. In a sane world, Trump’s official campaign launch contained enough dishonesty, bigotry, and ignorance to immediately sink his campaign before it even got rolling. However, the twenty-something months since that moment have proven we do not live in a sane world. So, yes, Trump has been astoundingly bad as a candidate, and now as a president. But when there are issues that may actually be criminal, everything else sort of fades into the background. Well, unless one actually is Trump, and then there is an interest in keeping the lesser stuff on the surface. But let’s focus on some potentially impeachment-worthy topics for now.
Things that we know about Trump:
We know that Donald Trump has refused to release his tax returns. His official excuse was comically dishonest, but he stuck with it through the campaign, ignoring the fact checkers, tax experts, economists, and reality. After the election, he admitted he had no intention in sharing them anyway, and claimed that nobody cared.
There are two points to make here. For starters, Donald Trump is not legally obligated to release his tax returns. Yes, every major party nominee since Richard Nixon has made it a point to release at least some prior years of tax filings, and most have done so without much complaint. But neither tradition nor gestures toward open disclosure have been particularly interesting to Trump.
The second point is that his refusal to release his tax returns opens up the possibility of a number of problems. Tax returns won’t reveal every nuance of his financial dealings, but basics like his sources of income, taxes paid, and any sort of loopholes used, would all be visible. If Trump does have income from Russian sources, his tax returns may show that. Also, there has been some speculation that the President has been guilty of underpaying taxes, or even all-out tax evasion. This would be an impeachable offense, and releasing that information would provide the American people with some clarity. However, the Republican Congress has not shown any interest in forcing the President to release his taxes. There are some laws being considered by individual states that may require disclosure of taxes in order for a presidential candidate to appear on the ballot, but that wouldn’t even be an issue until 2020. For now, it would take Congressional action to push Trump toward openness. Until that happens, his taxes, no matter how suspicious they might be, are a dead end.
There’s a ton of stuff to discuss here. I plan on covering this issue in greater depth, but suffice to say, we know a handful of things, and everything else is speculation.
We know that the Russian government, using their own resources (as well as assists from WikiLeaks), hacked the Democratic National Committee, and the Hillary Clinton campaign, during the 2016 election. They released stolen emails throughout the year to the American media. Most of the emails were themselves innocuous, but the fact that private memos were being shared with the public cast a shadow on the public perception of Hillary Clinton and her trustworthiness. Despite the lack of tangible evidence of any actual wrongdoing committed by Secretary Clinton, she suffered in popularity because of the Russian cyber attacks.
What we also know is that several advisors and confidantes of Donald Trump had close business ties with Russian companies and the Russian government. Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Jeff Sessions, Mike Flynn, and even Trump himself were all in contact with Russian government officials throughout 2016. Many of these contacts have been covered in detail by better journalists than myself.
After the election, but before Trump took office, Flynn was in contact with the Russian ambassador, and promised a lifting of economic sanctions even before he held any sort of government position. The contact, and subsequent lies to the Trump team eventually led to Flynn’s ouster after just three weeks as National Security Advisor.
We know that Donald Trump has pursued business deals with Russia for decades. We know that his sons have claimed much of their development funding has come from Russia.
What we don’t know for certain is the degree that Trump associates aided or approved of Russian sabotage. We don’t know how much money (if any) exchanged hands between Trump and Russia. And we don’t know if Trump himself was aware of – or involved in – potential collusion.
And those unknown quantities are what is currently being investigated by the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the FBI, in ascending order of seriousness. Unfortunately, the House investigation is mired in partisan ostriching. The Republicans who hold a majority on all committees are far more interested in ignoring Trump’s ties to Russia, and instead prefer to discuss the source of White House leaks and… Hillary Clinton’s emails. Because “party over country” is sadly quite real in these polarizing times. The Senate is doing a little more, where there are a handful of Republicans that are at least slightly skeptical of Trump. And finally, that FBI investigation is directly related to the final issue on this list.
In a sane world, this would have killed Trump’s campaign before he would have even made it through the primary. And then, if that didn’t do it, surely the leaked Access Hollywood tape should have dropped Trump’s vote share below thirty percent. Of course, that’s not what happened.
What did happen that we know?
Well, from Trump’s own words, we know that he walked into the changing rooms, uninvited, during both the Miss USA and the Teen USA pageants, in order to be able to see the young women (and girls) in states of undress. Not only have multiple contestants claimed this happened, but Trump himself bragged about walking into the changing rooms, while speaking on Howard Stern’s show.
Trump’s own words also include an admission of committing sexual assault in the now-infamous Access Hollywood recordings. In fact, more than an admission, he outright bragged that he assaults women at will. There was a fairly strong backlash from prominent Republicans immediately following these revelations, but the GOP outcry faded quickly. Within a couple weeks, nearly all of Trump’s lost support had returned to the fold.
Beyond Trump’s personal statements, he has been accused of sexual assault by several women over the years, including an allegation of raping a teenager. Despite a plethora of accusations, Trump’s support from his political base and from the GOP leadership has hardly wavered. As long as no damning evidence is brought to the public, his party will gladly turn a blind eye toward Trump’s sexual transgressions, both admitted and accused.
Conflicts of interest and the emoluments clause
This is another topic that I intend to expound on in greater detail in a future blog post, as there is so much going on here. What we can say is that Donald Trump was and still is the head of a large, privately-owned corporation, primarily invested in real estate, with interests in dozens of countries all over the world.
Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the US Constitution reads, “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
Modern interpretations of this clause (known as the emoluments clause), agree that Trump’s multiple business interests around the world frequently run squarely into this part of the document. Many of his businesses receive funding and tax incentives from foreign governments. As long as Trump continues to remain as owner of his enterprise (and earn profits from the business), his foreign investments are a direct violation of the emoluments clause.
As long as Trump earns money from a foreign government, no matter how indirectly, he is at risk of being influenced by that government. Indeed, foreign leaders have already expressed a desire to use Trump’s DC hotel for diplomatic visits, as a way to help grease the diplomatic wheels. This is blatant corruption, and if the Congress was interested in pursuing this issue, it is certainly an impeachable offense. There is a lawsuit being pushed which may eventually lead to some sort of legal action, but that could take years. In the meantime, the only thing that could force Trump to divest himself from his businesses is political will.
Obstruction of justice
When Donald Trump fired James Comey last week, he most assuredly did so in order to cripple the investigation into his ties with Russia. New leaks dripping out of the White House seem to have confirmed this. In fact, every time somebody in or near his administration has indicated they are looking into his potential misdeeds, Trump fires them. There’s a definite pattern.
This has taken me a few days to write, and when discussing this administration, a few days can amount to a metric crap-ton of new information. Not long after starting this piece, those leaks turned into a waterfall, many from the president himself. During an interview with Lester Holt, Trump admitted that he asked then-Director Comey if he was being investigated, and also stated (a bit more indirectly) that the firing was because of the Russian investigation.
Trump was enraged that Comey was continuing to… well, do his job. Unlike the House and Senate intelligence committees, FBI director Comey took the investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia quite seriously. Indeed, just a few days before being fired, Comey sought additional resources from the Justice Department in order to handle the rapidly growing investigation.
Further revelations from Comey have shown that Trump (allegedly) asked Comey directly to stop investigating Mike Flynn. He is also said to have asked for a pledge of loyalty from Comey, and requested that Comey consider jailing certain reporters. If true, this is all incredibly damning information.
So what does this all mean? Trump fired Comey because of the investigation of Trump ties to Russia? Then that would be obstruction of justice, and it would certainly be impeachable.
Problem is, even blatant obstruction of justice doesn’t seem to matter to GOP leadership. Not when the head of the Justice Department himself had a hand in the firing, despite having recused himself from the investigation over a month ago. Therefore, Attorney General Sessions is also guilty of obstruction of justice.
Even Republican voters still seem largely unconcerned with the Comey affair. It’s going to take crashing approval ratings from Republican voters to convince Republican Congresspersons to jump off the Trump train, much less help derail it. On issue after issue, Republican leaders have refused to take Trump’s transgressions seriously, or they have changed the subject (leaks! emails! wiretaps!), or have occasionally admitted that partisanship prevents action. There have finally now been some rumblings of dissatisfaction, since the Comey memos came to light. A small handful of Republicans have begun acknowledging the need for further action. However, as of now, a majority still appear to stand with the President.
Since the Comey firing, attention toward Trump’s various misdeeds has ramped up. Yesterday, the DOJ took the surprising (and welcome) step in appointing a special counsel to head up the investigation. Robert Mueller, James Comey’s predecessor as head of the FBI, has a solid reputation for being impartial and bipartisan. Naturally, Trump was livid.
It’s possible that the turmoil of the past week, the appointment of the special counsel, and the slight deterioration in Trump’s support may start to mark the beginning of the end for the near-unanimous support he has received. It’s also possible that the same pattern that has followed will continue… there will be some quiet grumbling among Republican leaders, there will be thinkpieces on liberal-leaning blogs breathlessly reporting that the “Republicans are finally turning on Trump!” And then… a new issue develops, the current scandals die down, and the GOP closes ranks around Trump once again.
Either scenario is possible. Time will tell whether or not Republicans ever do actually “turn on Trump.” It should be remembered that in a supposedly less-partisan time, it still took two years for the GOP to turn on Nixon after the Watergate break-in was first reported. There’s little reason to think anything will change quickly now.
For the time being, Donald Trump is the president. And until the Republican Party determines they can no longer support him, he will remain in office. But I would like to address Republicans for a moment. I want to propose a hypothetical scenario…
Take every scandal, every whiff of wrongdoing, incompetence, dishonesty, and corruption that we’ve seen over the last hundred and something days… and make Hillary Clinton the president. Everything else is still the same. The GOP still has control of the House and Senate. But now Hillary is president. She has multiple associates and staffers with deep connections to Russia. She refused to divest from her business interests. She declined to release her tax returns. She’s making money from foreign investments, in clear violation of the Constitution. She fired the head of the FBI explicitly because he was investigating her connections to a hostile foreign power. She asked him personally to stop his investigations before she fired him. She asked him for his personal loyalty, and to imprison journalists.
Look at that scenario, and please consider whether or not the Republicans in the House and Senate would be currently pushing for impeachment, with the above evidence at their disposal. Please consider whether they would have already pushed for the appointment of a special independent counsel.
To any readers of this piece who might be Republicans, or at least sympathetic to Donald Trump, please consider this. Would the allegations, scandals, and misdeeds (both proven and alleged) of Trump be worth defending if they were from Hillary Clinton?
As always, others have said it better. So, in addition to the embedded links above, check out the information in the links below.