Email #183: “grounds for impeachment”?

Donald Trump thought that the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998 was “nonsense,” but that Speaker Nancy Pelosi should have led an impeachment of President Bush for misleading the public about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Trump said to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in 2008:

“Well, you know, when [Pelosi] first got in and was named speaker, I met her. And I’m very impressed by her. I think she’s a very impressive person. I like her a lot. I was surprised that she didn’t do more in terms of Bush and going after Bush. It was almost — it just seemed like she was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which, personally, I think would have been a wonderful thing.”

Blitzer: “Impeaching him?”

Trump: “Absolutely, for the war, for the war.”

Blitzer: “Because of the conduct of the war.”

Trump: “Well, he lied. He got us into the war with lies. And, I mean, look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant. And they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense. And, yet, Bush got us into this horrible war with lies, by lying, by saying they had weapons of mass destruction, by saying all sorts of things that turned out not to be true.”

You voted to impeach President Clinton. Looking back, do you agree with President Trump that your decision was “nonsense” and the matter “totally unimportant.” Do you agree with the President that President Bush should have been impeached for “lying” and “saying all sorts of things that turned out not to be true”?

In 2014, you said on ABC that you disagreed with calls from fellow Republicans to impeach President Obama: “The Constitution is very clear as to what constitutes grounds for impeachment of the President of the United States. He has not committed the kind of criminal acts that call for that.”

But the Constitution is not very clear. It only 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.”Before he resigned, President Nixon was going to be impeached because he “prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice.” But House Republicans impeached President Johnson in 1868 for breaking the now defunct Tenure of Office Act by firing a cabinet member and for failing to execute The Reconstruction Acts.

The phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” is ambiguous too, but it typically includes: “allegations of misconduct peculiar to officials, such as perjury of oath, abuse of authority, bribery, intimidation, misuse of assets, failure to supervise, dereliction of duty, unbecoming conduct, and refusal to obey a lawful order.”

While perjury and bribery are clearly defined crimes, intimidation and unbecoming conduct are not. White House lawyers have started to consult experts on impeachment proceedings. I imagine members of your House Judiciary Committee have been brushing up too since the committee is considered “the lawyer of the House of Representatives” and is in charge of impeachment.

You seemed to have been anticipating impeaching Secretary Clinton when it appeared she would be elected president last fall. You accidentally refered to a “perjury referral” as an “impeachment referral” when describing your questioning of FBI Director Comey about Clinton’s testimony to Congress.

Given the ambiguity of the impeachment clause and the vacillating opinions of so many politicians regarding its use, would you please explain your interpretation of that law? What areas of misconduct apply and do not apply and at what evidentiary thresholds?

According to his written testimony, former FBI Director James Comey “understood the President to be requesting that we drop any investigation of Flynn.” He considered the request “very concerning” but because “it was a one-on-one conversation” and so “there was nothing available to corroborate,” he did not “report it to Attorney General Sessions.” Do you consider this evidence of abuse of power?

News agencies have also recently reported that the President requested Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo to intervene with Comey to end the FBI investigation. If Coats and Pompeo corroborate this account, would you consider it evidence of obstruction of justice?

You said the deputy attorney general’s appointment of a special counsel “will help instill much needed public confidence in the investigation.” Public confidence is much needed in your own office too. While I have no idea what will emerge from the current FBI, Senate, House investigations, you constituents need to know that you will set aside all political considerations and evaluate the facts according to transparent principles. To do that, you need to communicate those principles in advance of any investigative findings.

Email #161: “uphold our Constitution”?

The Constitution states that “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.”

To the best of my knowledge, President Trump has committed no impeachable crimes. But according to former FBI Director Comey, the investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign is underway because it met the FBI’s evidentiary threshold. So there is “a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe that an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.”

We also know that the President has made multiple false and misleading statements about the investigation. He tweeted over the weekend: “When James Clapper himself, and virtually everyone else with knowledge of the witch hunt, says there is no collusion, when does it end?”

Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence who retired in January, said in March that he was not aware of any evidence of collusion because he was not involved in any investigation. He repeated this over the weekend: “I don’t know if there was collusion or not.” He also added:

“our institutions are under assault both externally — and that’s the big news here, Russian interference in our election system — and I think, as well, our institutions are under assault internally…. the Founding Fathers … created a system of three co-equal branches of government, and a built-in system of checks and balances. And I feel as though that’s under assault and is eroding.”

When asked to clarify if he meant that our institutions are under assault internally by the President, he responded: “Exactly.” It is peculiar then for the President to cite Director Clapper to support his claim that he is not being investigated. The fact-checking website gives the President a “mostly false” on that point.

While it is not an impeachable offense for a President to make “mostly false” statements unless under oath, it does illustrate Clapper’s concern. Why is President Trump openly misleading the American public about the investigation? And, equally importantly, why are you allowing this?

You assured me in January that you would “uphold our Constitution and put the interests of the citizens of the 6th District of Virginia and the country as a whole above the interests of any individual or political party.” Like Director Clapper, you refered to “our constitutional system of three co-equal branches of government” and how it prevents “one branch from assuming too much authority without a challenge from the other branches of government.”

But that is only true if the members of each branch take action when needed. You are not. While the President is responsible for assaulting the integrity of the White House, you are responsible for the eroding integrity of Congress generally and the House Judiciary Committee specifically. That will be your legacy.


Email #102, Subject: impeached presidents

Should a democratically elected president be allowed to mix business and politics?

South Korea says no. Their President Park Geun-hye was just impeached for corruption and cronyism. She left office last week after the Constitutional Court (the South Korean equivalent of our Supreme Court) agreed that she had improperly helped a friend raise millions of dollars from private companies. More than 70% of the population agree too. But as she left the Blue House (the South Korean equivalent of our White House), her supporters waved Donald Trump “Make American Great Again” campaign signs. They said, “We want to make Korea great again.”

She now faces charges of bribery, extortion and abuse of power. And she’s not alone. Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, and Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have all abused their political positions by mixing them with their private business interests.

All of those countries have much weaker democratic institutions than those in the U.S. That’s why it is so disturbing that President Trump continues to blur the lines between his own political and family business interests. Not only did he refuse to place his businesses in a blind trust, he appointed a family member to run them in his nominal absence. Although he famously tweeted criticisms of Nordstrom on behalf of his daughter’s clothing line, his foreign business connections are far more concerning. Here are just five:

Trump’s partner for Trump Tower in Mataki City is now the Philippine’s special envoy to the U.S.

Trump has a golf club, spa, and luxury housing projects in Dubai and has hosted Dubai dignitaries at his Florida resort.

Trump plans a pair of resorts in Indonesia, including a highway built by a contractor connected to the Indonesian government.

Trump has five more projects in India with partners allied with Indian politicians.

China’s state-owned bank is the largest lease holder of Trump Tower.

Any of these could place the President in an impeachable position. And this is only the beginning of a very long list. For President Trump, divisions between business and politics are murky at best. Although Congress is Constitutionally required to oversee the executive branch, you, as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, continue to do nothing. As a result, the U.S., once the leading model of democratic norms, now stands alongside the fledgling republics of Argentina, South Africa, Thailand, and South Korea.

You are prioritizing your own short-term political agenda over the long-term institutional damage to American government. Even without overt corruption, President Trump’s expansive business interests establish a new and shockingly low bar for the division between public and private power.

Please stop treating the President as your boss and start exerting the control over the executive branch that your job requires.

Email #44, Subject: treason?

President-elect Trump did not commit treason. The U.S. Constitution defines that very clearly: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Instead our enemy Russia gave him aid in the election against Hilary Clinton. Of course the verb “adhering” is ambiguous, since Trump does seem to “believe in and follow the practices of” Putin. But this seems like inadequate grounds to convict him. As far as the allegations from British intelligence agents that he was blackmailed into colluding with Russia, those have yet to be supported. I understand the Justice department is investigating. If they find that he did collude, then impeachment is inevitable. If he were convicted of treason, the Constitution says he would only have to be “imprisoned not less than five years and fined … not less than $10,000.” Obviously the fine wouldn’t matter, and we convict people for longer sentences for lesser crimes. Since President-elect Trump is entering the White House with this specter of treason around him, how are you as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee preparing? Are you also investigating the allegations, or will you simply accept the findings of the Justice department and begin the impeachment process if they verify the evidence?

Chris Gavaler