Laurence H. Tribe
May 17, 2017
ALL SPIDER-MAN fans will recognize the line, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We need to act now on that maxim’s converse: When great power is placed in the hands of one who cannot be trusted to act responsibly, we must take that power back.
That means starting now to trim President Trump’s power to do irreparable harm to the nation and, ultimately, the world. That’s why I’ve previously raised 25th Amendment questions about Trump’s ability to “discharge the powers and duties of his office” and have recently called for immediate initiation of impeachment investigations — akin to convening a grand jury to consider returning a criminal indictment.
This call may be politically unrealistic; and it wouldn’t advance my progressive agenda. Vice President Mike Pence is no picnic. Nor is House Speaker Paul Ryan. But there’s no time to lose. While Congress pressures the deputy attorney general to appoint an independent counsel to pursue possible criminal prosecutions and Congress’s intelligence committees dig deeper into who did what with whom to tilt the 2016 election toward Trump, the House needs to start digging now into the Trump administration’s abuses of power and Trump’s blatant violations of his oath faithfully to execute the office of president.
That digging, which might or might not result in impeachment articles and a Senate trial of Trump (and possibly a Senate trial of Attorney General Jeff Sessions as well), cannot wait for the possible passage of legislation (which Trump would veto anyway) to create either a special blue ribbon 9/11-style commission or a commission to inquire into Trump’s mental ability to govern constitutionally. The situation calls for urgent action on multiple fronts, not more delay.
Clear proof of urgency came with Trump’s boastful sharing of highly classified intelligence provided to us by Israel — about a new ISIS strategy for using laptops to blow up civilian airliners, no less — not with our allies but with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister. That urgency was underscored by what had happened just the day before, when Trump suddenly sacked FBI Director James Comey for refusing to pledge that the FBI wouldn’t target Trump himself in its recently accelerated investigation into apparent collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia. And the urgency escalated exponentially with the revelation that former director Comey, whose honesty no one has ever questioned, kept contemporary memos of every Trump intervention in the FBI’s investigation of possible collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia.
Repeating his now characteristic pattern, Trump first fanned out his troops (this time including the national security adviser) to release fake news. He then blurted and tweeted something closer to the truth but said not to worry: Just as he had claimed unfettered authority to decide whether to keep or replace Comey as the leader of the investigation into his campaign, he insisted that he had an “absolute right” as POTUS to decide what top secret information to share with whom for whatever reasons he wished.
It seems increasingly likely that the many parallel ways Trump, his family, and his White House team kiss up to Putin — whose request for Trump to entertain the ambassador, so often found at the center of Trump confidantes’ intrigues, Trump told an interviewer he of course had to grant — will ultimately be explained by the Russian trail of money and its laundering that is finally getting closer attention. But whether that’s the tip of a grossly unconstitutional iceberg or just the strangest bunch of coincidences ever, we need to get to the bottom of the money pit through investigations beyond the reach of Trump’s machinations.
In the meantime the House has a duty to start digging right now into Trump’s seemingly impeachable offenses before any more potentially irreparable harm is done to our national security. Just to name those offenses, they could even include treason — both in acquiring the presidency through what may have been collusion with our adversaries, and in using that office to give those adversaries aid and comfort in return, as well as grow the family fortune at America’s expense.
Those offenses also include what looks every bit like quid pro quo bribery — in offering favorable treatment to Russia (and other governments that aren’t our friends) in return for something Russia might do for him, and in offering a favor to the FBI director, whom Trump described as essentially a job-seeker, in return for assurance that the FBI investigation of Russiagate would exclude Trump himself. Nor is looking into these matters with an eye toward impeachment and possible removal from office optional: Article II Section 4 of the Constitution says the “President [and] Vice President . . . shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” That’s “shall,” not “may.”
Despite that mandate, tradition has made the whole notion of impeachment so radioactive, and the instances of its abuse as a political tool against presidents of the opposing party so distasteful, that the reluctance to invoke it is now palpable. But, given the even greater difficulty of using the 25th Amendment to remove a president who is clueless about constitutional limits and delusional about his duties, we need to get over the allergy to the basic concept of removal through impeachment and stop thinking of it, inaccurately, as retribution for sinister intent.
Trump’s invariable reply to claims of alleged abuse echoes Nixon’s infamous remark: “If the president does it, it’s legal.” That was Trump’s answer to challenges to the travel ban directed at Muslims (in places where Trump doesn’t have business interests, not the places that have sent terrorists to kill Americans); to his many financial entanglements in evident violation of the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses; to his sudden discharge of Comey; and, most recently, to his decision to share with our Russian adversaries information too sensitive to share even with our allies. To each allegation of abuse, Trump’s childlike answer is: I’m the president, so I can do no wrong.
We fought a revolution against George III to escape that sort of absolute power, whether grounded in corrupt motives or growing out of incapacity. We fought World War II against such claims of boundless authority. Although we have at times tolerated and even propped up dictators for what they could do for our country, this is the first time in American history that we’ve been led by someone who admires those strongmen and sidles up to them for what they can do or have done not for their country but for themselves, by raping and pillaging their nations and their people as needed. These episodes have this in common: They treat the power with which we have entrusted Trump as a plaything to use as he pleases, not to maintain and guard America’s greatness as he took a solemn oath to do; not to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” but to satisfy his immature ego, his endless need to boast, and his insatiable greed.
So it is time to act — and our constitutional system gives us the tools with which to begin.
Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor and professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School. He is the citizen attorney general in the Shadow Government, @ShadowingTrump. Follow him on Twitter@tribelaw.
The End of Trump
May 14, 2017
The question is no longer whether there are grounds to impeach Donald Trump. It is when enough Republicans will put their loyalty to America ahead of their loyalty to their party.
Trump’s statements last week about his firing of former FBI director James Comey provide ample evidence that Trump engaged in an obstruction of justice – a major charge in impeachment proceedings brought against Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.
It’s worth recalling that the illegality underlying Nixon’s impeachment was a burglary at the Watergate complex, while the illegality underlying Clinton’s was lying to a grand jury about sex with an intern in the White House.
Trump’s obstruction is potentially far more serious. It involves an investigation about whether Trump or his aides colluded with Russia in rigging a presidential election – the most direct assault on American democracy in history,
Last Thursday, in an interview with NBC News’s Lester Holt about his firing of Comey, Trump said: “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.” Trump also said that he had pressed Comey during a private dinner to tell him if he was under investigation.
Trump conceded that the ongoing investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election, which includes a probe into the possibility that Moscow was coordinating with the Trump campaign, was one of the factors Trump considered before firing Comey.
“In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,’ ” Trump said.
The law is reasonably clear. If Trump removed Comey to avoid being investigated, that’s an obstruction of justice – an impeachable offense.
On Friday, Trump tweeted that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
Here, the law is also clear. Seeking to silence, intimidate or even influence someone who is likely to offer evidence in a congressional or criminal proceeding is also an obstruction of justice – and an impeachable offense.
As a practical matter, though, nothing will happen until a majority of the House decides on bringing a bill of impeachment. Which means, under the present congress, twenty-two Republicans would have to join with House Democrats to put enough pressure on the Speaker of the House to allow such a bill to be considered.
The odds of this occurring in this Congress, under present circumstances, are approximately zero.
So – barring a “smoking gun” that shows Trump’s complicity with Russian operatives in interfering in the 2016 election – Trump’s fate seems to hinge on the midterm elections of 2018.
Those elections are less than eighteen months away. That’s a long time in American politics. Under a Trump presidency, that’s an eternity.
But there’s another possibility.
In my experience, most elected politicians have two goals – to do what they consider to be the right things for the American public, and to be reelected (not necessarily in that order).
If Trump’s poll numbers continue to plummet – particularly among Republicans and Independents – twenty-two House Republicans may well decide their chances for being reelected are better if they abandon him before the 2018 midterms.
Paul Ryan and the House Republican leadership might make a similar calculation, at least enough to put a bill of impeachment on the table.
Most House Republicans prefer Vice President Mike Pence to Donald Trump anyway. As one said to me several months ago, “Pence is a predictable conservative. Trump is an unpredictable egomaniac. Most of us are more comfortable with the former.”
There’s a good chance Trump’s polls will continue to fall. First, he’s shown to be his own worst enemy. Even when things are going reasonably well, he seems bizarrely intent on stirring controversy – and saying or tweeting things that get him into trouble.
There’s also a matter of the economy. The expansion that began in 2009 is getting long in the tooth. If history is any guide, we’re due for a slowdown or recession. And justified or not, presidents get blamed when Americans lose jobs.
Donald Trump doesn’t have the character or the temperament to be president of the United States. But this obvious fact isn’t enough to get him fired.
He’ll be fired when enough Americans decide they can’t abide him anymore.
Then, maybe in an impeachment proceeding, it will come out that Trump did something incredibly stupid – like give a nod of approval to one of his campaign bottom feeders like Roger Stone to tell a Russian operative to go ahead with their plan to interfere in the 2016 election.
The House impeaches. The Senate convicts. That’s the end of Trump.
May 16, 2017
For the first time, more Americans would say “yea” to impeaching Donald Trump than would say “nay,” according to a new poll.
A survey from Public Policy Polling released Tuesday finds 48 percent of those questioned support impeaching the president, while just 41 percent would oppose the move. The negative feelings about Trump also affected prognostications about how long his presidency will last. Just 43 percent of respondents think Trump will remain in office for four years, while 45 percent think he won’t complete his term. Another 12 percent “aren't sure one way or the other.”
Researchers behind the poll attribute the gloomy outlook on Trump to several obvious reasons; namely, respondents don’t buy the reasons given for FBI director James Comey’s firing; they suspect the Russians helped put Trump in office; they don’t like the GOP's American Health Care Act; and they think Trump is dishonest. Plus, lots of Americans just think Trump is doing a bad job in general. The survey found “40 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing to 54 percent who disapprove.”
While a number of congressional Democrats have proposed impeaching Trump, no Republicans have echoed those calls. Many of those who call for articles of impeachment to be prepared point to questions about Trump's mental competency. Under the 25th Amendment, the president can be removed from office if he (they’ve all been he) is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." The language in full states:
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.
In April, a group of 35 psychiatrists gathered at Yale School of Medicine to address what they label Trump's “dangerous mental illness."
“As some prominent psychiatrists have noted, [Trump’s mental health] is the elephant in the room,” Dr. Bandy Lee reportedly stated. “I think the public is really starting to catch on and widely talk about this now.”
Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.