The House Judiciary Committee will begin the process of writing articles of impeachment for President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
At a hearing that day, legal scholars will provide the definition of impeachable offenses and explain that impeachable acts need not be written in the criminal code, but are instead “political offences” against the state. You’ll hear that the Constitution’s authors described impeachment as necessary to stop a president who would “betray his trust to foreign powers,” engage in a scheme “corrupting his electors” or “pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression.”
These scholars are expected to offer a historical and legal definition of an impeachable act that clearly covers Trump’s effort to coerce Ukraine to aid his reelection campaign. But they’ll probably also provide ample argument that some of Trump’s other, most egregious acts in office could warrant impeachment on their own.
Obstructing Robert Mueller’s Investigation
Special counsel Robert Mueller detailed multiple acts the president committed to obstruct the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But Mueller claimed that Congress was the only constitutionally legitimate body to judge Trump’s acts, as the Department of Justice forbade the criminal prosecution of a sitting president.
The White House has since blocked testimony from former and current officials subpoenaed by Congress to testify about these alleged acts of obstruction of justice. Key among those officials is former White House counsel Don McGahn.
McGahn’s testimony would be important, as he testified to the special counsel that he refused Trump’s order to fire Mueller. Trump then reportedly ordered McGahn to falsify documents so he could claim that he never ordered Mueller’s firing after the press reported the incident.
One count of impeachment against President Richard Nixon covered his obstruction of justice by “interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by the Department of Justice of the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, and Congressional Committees,” and, “approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counselling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements.”
Congressional efforts to obtain McGahn’s testimony are still stuck in the courts. A district court judge ruled against the Trump administration’s move to block the testimony in November, but the administration has appealed the ruling.
Getting Rich(er) Off His Office
When Trump took office, he became the first president in the modern era to refuse to divest from his business. That meant that he would be able to be paid directly or provided other legal, monetary benefits like copyrights from governments. The Constitution’s emoluments clause forbids any federal officeholder from receiving gifts, titles or benefits from governments, foreign and domestic, aside from a salary.
Trump’s apparent refusal to abide by the emoluments clause since taking office has prompted ongoing lawsuits, House Democrats’ passage of legislation to enforce the clause, and limited calls for an article of impeachment to cover Trump’s blanket acceptance of benefits and payments from the U.S. and foreign governments.
But the act that most clearly looks impeachable among Trump’s emoluments violations is his effort to get the federal government to use his struggling Trump National Doral Miami Resort for the upcoming 2020 summit of the Group of Seven nations.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announced that the G-7 summit would take place at the president’s resort on Oct. 17. He claimed that Trump would not be “making any money off of this.” But two days later, Trump reversed his decision, blaming the media and Democrats when it was actually an outcry by congressional Republicans that forced the reversal.
What would be revealed later was that Doral was never on the original list of sites considered by the Secret Service for the G-7 summit. Instead, it was added very late in the review process on direction from the president, according to a Washington Post report based on Secret Service documents.
Based on the known facts, this was apparently an effort by Trump to use his office to pump money into a flagging property he owns. It’s not the only example, either. The House Oversight Committee continues to investigate odd Air Force refueling stops in Scotland that led some crew members to stay at Trump’s Turnberry Resort.
Trump ran for president in 2016 on a platform calling for the United States military to commit more war crimes. He fulfilled his support for war crimes on Nov. 15 when he issued pardons for two Army officers convicted of war crimes and one Navy SEAL standing trial for war crimes.
These pardons have aggravated military leadership for signaling internally and to the world that the highest officer of the U.S. government is cool with war crimes. Numerous veterans have spoken out against Trump’s pardons as potentially undermining the mission of U.S. military forces and U.S. national security.
It’s not just that Trump has endorsed war crimes by way of pardon; he also says the U.S. military is committing them in Syria right now.
After initially claiming that U.S. troops would be leaving Syria altogether, Trump later claimed that the military had occupied oil fields for the U.S. to steal. This is a war crime, according to countless international agreements, as Slate pointed out at the time.
“We’ve secured the oil and, therefore, a small number of U.S. troops will remain in the area,” Trump said at a press conference in October after U.S. troops withdrew from the Turkey-Syria border to allow the Turkish military to attack Syrian Kurds. “Where they have the oil. And we’re going to be protecting it, and we’ll be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future.”
These are just the known deeds Trump has committed that could rise to the level of impeachable offenses, as scholars will argue with regard to his dealings with Ukraine.
But for Trump, a fabulist who built his fame and fortune on a series of sometimes-criminal frauds, there is always an array of acts that could be impeachable if investigated further.
Is Trump’s policy regarding Turkey solely motivated by his personal financial interests, as former national security adviser John Bolton reportedly suggested? Did Trump interfere in the Pentagon bidding process to prevent Amazon from receiving a massive contract? Did he intervene in the bidding process to help a Republican Party donor win a contract related to the U.S.-Mexico border wall?
Perhaps the constitutional scholars could provide some additional insight into what else the president may have done that the Constitution’s authors would want no part of.