Impeaching Donald Trump: Here are 4 issues Democrats can attack now
Donald Trump will become president of the United States in just 16 days — and many are hoping he won't be in the Oval Office for long.
Reports of how Trump could be impeached have swirled since before he even won the election, with attorney Bruce Fein telling Politico back in April that he forecast 50-50 odds that Trump would commit an impeachable offense. And with Trump's presidency now just weeks away, those impeachment dreams haven't died down.
How does impeachment work?
Article II of the U.S. Constitution explains that a president may be impeached if they are convicted of "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Impeachment does not mean that a president will necessarily be forced out of office; rather, the term refers to the judicial proceedings that would preempt such an oust taking place. Those proceedings consist of a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives and a judicial trial in the U.S. Senate.
It remains to be seen whether Trump will commit impeachable offenses once in office, but for Democratic legislators hoping to start the impeachment process straight away, the president-elect has already committed a number of offenses that may be grounds for impeachment.
In an article on the Huffington Post, lawyer Bill Blum explains that there's no legal reason why Trump's actions prior to inauguration couldn't be considered impeachable offenses, noting that several federal judges have been impeached for their actions prior to their federal appointment, and that President Bill Clinton's impeachment scandal began with a probe into the "Whitewater" incident in the 1970s and '80s, well before his election to the presidency in 1992.
Of course, the chances that Trump will be impeached are ultimately low, given that Congress is currently controlled by Republicans who are eager to have someone from their own party in the White House, as well as the vague definition of what constitutes an impeachable offense.
"An impeachable offense," former President Gerald Ford said, as quoted in the Huffington Post, "is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history."
But for Democrats hoping to act proactively and take action right away, here are four issues that could be grounds for impeachment even before Trump takes the Oath of Office.
1. Conflicts of interest
Arguably the biggest potential issue allowing for Trump's impeachment is the conflicts of interest faced by Trump's business, from which Trump has not yet completely distanced himself.
Though the president is exempt from the federal conflicts of interest statute — "The president of the United States is allowed to have whatever conflicts he wants," as Trump told the New York Times — Trump's business conflicts could be grounds for impeachment under the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution. The emoluments clause notes that "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."
Following Trump's inauguration, the Brookings Institute published a 23-page analysis of the clause and its application to Trump and his business interests. "Applied to Mr. Trump's diverse dealings," the authors of the study wrote, "the text and purpose of the emoluments clause speak as one: This cannot be allowed."
One example of how Trump's business presented a constitutional conflict, ThinkProgress reported, was a recent instance in which the Kuwaiti Embassy moved an event that was originally scheduled at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., to Trump's D.C. Hotel. The embassy reportedly cancelled its reservation at the Four Seasons after receiving pressure from the Trump Organization to move the event to their own hotel.
But the issue is more widespread than the Kuwaiti delegation: The Washington Post reported that the Trump International Hotel in D.C. held a post-election event for 100 foreign diplomats that allowed them to "become better acquainted with the business holdings of the new commander in chief."
This, of course, makes it incredibly easy for diplomats to try to curry favor with and "buy" access to the new president by financially supporting his businesses.
Trump could get away with violating the emoluments clause by receiving Congressional approval, the New York Times noted. However, Democrats are already starting to fight back: Senator Elizabeth Warren and other Democratic senators will introduce a bill that would make any violation of the emoluments clause grounds for Trump's impeachment.
Trump's continued denial of the Russian hacking allegations may present another key to his impeachment. As Trump continues to reject the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and the bipartisan call for a Congressional investigation, he may soon face another impeachable offense: treason.
"By denigrating or seeking to prevent an investigation of the Russian cyberattack," John Shattuck, a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, wrote in the Boston Globe, "Trump is giving aid or comfort to an enemy of the United States" — a crime that could be "enhanced," Shattuck notes, were an investigation to reveal that Trump or his allies knew about the Russian attack in advance.
Trump will enter the White House with a hefty amount of legal baggage. Though the president-elect settled his Trump University lawsuit in November for $25 million — in which he was charged with crimes of fraud and racketeering — Trump had at least 75 open lawsuits as of two weeks before Election Day, USA Today reported. The number is unprecedented for an incoming president.
Some of the lawsuits, USA Today noted, include charges of an employee being fired after reporting sexual harassment, a class action against unsolicited text messages sent by the Trump campaign and charges brought by members at Trump's Florida golf course who were cheated out of refunds for their dues.
Beyond revealing any wrongdoing by Trump that could be grounds for impeachment, the lawsuits could present a variety of other conflicts, according to USA Today's analysis. These include potential conflicts of interest — as lawyers or judges seek to curry favor with the commander-in-chief — or uncovering scandals or information that political opponents could use against him and the United States.
4. Revealing classified information
One of the clearest ways that Trump could violate the law would be to reveal classified information — as the endless investigations over Hillary Clinton's emails makes clear.
Trump's close professional relationship with his children — who will soon be running his company — however, may have already put some information at risk. Soon after his election, Trump met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and brought his daughter Ivanka along.
Though the meeting was reportedly "informal," former Deputy Secretary of State for Public Affairs Moira Whelan told the New York Times that anyone present for such a meeting, in normal circumstances, would require security clearance at a minimum, along with a background in Japanese affairs.
"Meeting of two heads of state is never an informal occurrence," Whelan told the Times. "Even a casual mention or a nod of agreement or an assertion left unchallenged can be interpreted in different ways."
As the impeachable charges continue to mount, however, Trump will remain president once he's inaugurated on Jan. 20 — unless Congress decides to take action.