Steve Russell

The Downside to Impeaching Trump

Is America, let alone Indian country, comfortable with the line of succession after President Trump?

Although the investigations are flowing like cold molasses and there is rampant obstruction that may still keep the sticky stuff in the bottle, I think it’s probable that The Donald is guilty of impeachable offenses.

“High crimes and misdemeanors” is on its face broader than felonies, as Bill Clinton found out. In many states, Clinton’s perjury would not have been a felony because it did not touch a material issue in an official proceeding. If Congress were not dominated by Republicans, it would be possible (legal) to impeach Trump on the ground that he’s an inveterate liar in public matters who brings disrepute to the office. Given Republican dominance, that will not be a ground.

Obstruction of justice is a ground for impeachment, and it was the first of three articles of impeachment Richard Nixon was facing. How has Trump obstructed justice? Firing the head of the FBI. Serial lying about the links between his campaign and a foreign power. Threatening James Comey on Twitter. Trashing the reputation of Sally Yates after firing her.

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Before this is over, he may reach a Nixon trifecta—if he has not already—by hitting the other two articles of impeachment in Nixon’s case: violating the constitutional rights of citizens and failing to produce documents.

In addition, an issue not present in the Nixon impeachment is all over the Trump presidency. There is no case law I know of on the meaning of Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution, the Emoluments Clause. Trump is receiving so much filthy lucre from foreign states—directly and indirectly, commercial and political—that if he has not violated it then it cannot be violated.

I also think that, if impeached, he will be in danger of conviction because of his track record of pissing on everybody’s shoes. Some people fear him but few love him.

So, you want Trump impeached?

Are you sure? Maybe you should look at the bullpen in constitutional order before you answer that.

  1. Vice President Mike Pence? Why not just cut out the middleman and appoint Jesus? Government by Divine Guidance is bad enough, but in Pence’s case if Jesus did not inform him then he is not informed.

Everybody knows Jesus preached against sex education and prevention of HIV with needle exchanges. Everybody knows Jesus favored the NRA and opposed Planned Parenthood. You see the problem? We are used to disputing public policy in secular terms and the Constitution did not anticipate government by Christian mullahs.

  1. House Speaker Paul Ryan is reputedly smarter than Pence and is what passes for an idea man on the starboard side of U.S. politics. Problem is, his major idea is making the wealthy wealthier.

If you favor privatizing the entire social safety net and shifting the tax burden even more off the investing class and on to the working class, Ryan is your man.

Personally, I would balk at being governed by somebody who thinks Ayn Rand was a serious philosopher. I’ve watched enough sophomores get over her to wonder about the source of Ryan’s arrested development.

  1. President pro tempore of the Senate Orrin Hatch? See the Pence theory of government above except that Hatch is required to phone Salt Lake to find out Jesus’s druthers. However, Hatch has a good grasp of how government works which in itself might be an improvement even if you don’t like what he’s doing.
  2. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? It’s bad enough to have a Secretary of State representing Exxon. He’s in way over his head. How would promoting him improve either problem?
  3. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin? It’s bad enough to have a Treasury Secretary representing Golden Sacks, but the Republic has survived that before. You want to turn Goldman Sachs loose on the Tax Code?
  4. Defense Secretary James Mattis? Military men have not done well as POTUS, with the exceptions of George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower.

But I must admit it would be cool to have a POTUS nicknamed “Mad Dog.”

  1. Attorney General Jeff Sessions? What’s next? Cross burnings replace the Easter Egg Roll?
  2. Maybe Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. If I had to pick one, I think I’d take this guy from Montana. Ex-SEAL. Two Bronze Stars. Believes in science, sorta, saying that climate change is not a hoax but it’s not proven science either. But at the same time, he views climate change as a “threat multiplier,” which is pretty much the military line. He’s anti-choice, but that does not make him stand out in this list. Unlike Trump and his Attorney General, Zinke has no problem denouncing white supremacists.
  3. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue? Climate change denier. Refused to put his assets in a blind trust and violated his own executive order on not taking gifts when he was governor of Georgia. On the other hand, when Georgia had a drought in 2007, he organized the whole state to pray for rain. As a direct result, 2009 saw the most severe flooding in Georgia’s modern history.
  4. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross carries the primary qualification for service in the Trump cabinet: he’s a billionaire. It was Ross and the cowboy capitalist Carl Icahn (a Trump advisor on cutting regulations, a position he has already proven lucrative) who cut the deal that kept Trump in control of three casinos on the brink of bankruptcy. Last year, Ross paid back $11.8 million to investors and paid a fine of $2.3 million to the SEC to settle claims his company was overcharging fees. Clearly qualified for higher office, no?
  5. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta is one of the smartest and cleanest of Trump’s cabinet appointments. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and a former dean of Florida International University College of Law. He has never been accused of stealing or abuse of authority. The only explanation for Trump’s lapse of judgment is his crying need for a Hispanic in the cabinet. Trump may have relaxed the billionaire requirement because Acosta’s not Mexican-American but rather Cuban-American.
  6. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price holds a BA and an MD from the University of Michigan. Until he started to move up in the political world, Price was a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, which is to the American Medical Association as Gun Owners of America is to the NRA. AAPS is opposed to Medicare and to mandatory vaccination.
  7. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson said he was not qualified to serve in the cabinet after running for POTUS and then he accepted a cabinet post. Any further questions?
  8. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has a qualification that every rez Indian will understand. Her husband is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke and Harvard Business School and she has an impressive resume, but she is disqualified from serving as POTUS because she was born in Taipei, Taiwan.
  9. Energy Secretary Rick Perry. No pressure, but Obama’s first Secretary of Energy was Dr. Stephen Chu, Nobel Laureate in Physics. His second was Dr. Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist whose last accomplishment in office was his refusal to turn over a list of Department employees who worked on climate change. Perry famously earned a D in a course at Texas A & M University called “Meats,” leading a Texas wag to suggest this snippet of a lecture:

“This, ladies and gentlemen, is a hot dog—am I going too quickly for you, Mr. Perry?”

  1. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos comes from the 88th richest family in the U.S. according to Forbes and she has reversed the Obama administration’s crackdown on diploma mills like Trump University. She was confirmed when VP Pence cast a tie-breaking vote. It was so close because she’s a woman ahead of her time, an education secretary hostile to public education.
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  1. Veteran Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin is the only appointee to the Trump cabinet confirmed on a vote of 100 to zip. He’s the first non-veteran to head the VA, but he’s also highly qualified, having headed hospitals and hospital organizations. He considers veteran suicide a “top priority” and what really makes him the odd man out in this rogue’s gallery is his opposition to privatizing the VA, on the ground that it’s “a different model of medical care.” Shulkin would be a bad pick for POTUS because we need him exactly where he is.
  2. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly clocks in dead last in the constitutional order of succession. His work as commanding officer of the Southern Command, which takes in Central and South America, won bipartisan praise. For those who—unlike President Trump—have a working knowledge of U.S. history, Kelly is more George C. Marshall than Douglas McArthur. As for the poor track record of generals in the White House, I expect that if we got down to number 18 on the list, it might be a good time for a Marine Corps general.

Now, one last time, are you really sure impeaching Trump is a good idea?

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a retired Texas trial court judge and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.

Comments
  • Jim R.

    Nixon was never impeached, and no “lying” is not a cause for impeachment. Come on man, you have to do a better job of research

  • Steve R.

    Perhaps my research would improve if your reading did. I did not say Nixon was impeached. I said he was “facing” Articles of Impeachment. They passed out of the judiciary committee of the House and he resigned before the floor vote. If you don’t think those two events were connected, I don’t know what to say to you.

    If you think lying cannot be a cause for impeachment, you need to have a drink with Bill Clinton. But, once more, I said no such thing. I placed more conditions around “lying” than the perjury statute places around “lying” and the latter got Clinton impeached. I fully expected somebody was going to make me go off into the weeds and explain why Clinton’s lie was not material to an official proceeding because it was way too complicated to put out there. The Cliff’s Notes version is that at the time of Clinton’s lie about sexual contact with Lewinsky, there were two viable theories of sexual harassment, and nothing in his lie would make any element of either theory more or less probable.

    Oh, and the other reason I am not guilty of poor research for this particular column is that I didn’t do any. I felt that working in a newsroom during the Watergate affair and having been in Europe shortly after the Clinton impeachment and so had to explain it many times were sufficient groundings in the facts to support my opinion. I completely agree that no impeachment has ever gone where I suggest yet, but the bottom line is that “high crimes and misdemeanors” means whatever a majority of the House says. Once the impeachment resolution is passed–no matter how silly it looks on its face–there has to be a trial in the Senate. Any “not an impeachable offense” argument is an aspiration, not a fact. The only way to make it real is for the Senate to vote not to convict, as the Senate did in the cases of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. We don’t know how they would have voted on Nixon’s Articles of Impeachment, but we do know what the grounds were and that the impeachment resolution was going to pass. Do you think Nixon resigned without a vote count?

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The Downside to Impeaching Trump

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