A report released Tuesday accusing President-elect Donald Trump's team of communicating with Russia as it influenced the election caused some critics to question Trump's future in the White House. Though Trump has routinely denied such allegations, taking to Twitter to say the latest report was “completely false,” if Congress proves he was involved, it could eventually result in impeachment.
The grounds for impeaching a president can be found in Article II of the United States Constitution, which says an official must be convicted by a majority vote in Congress over “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Treason may be the most likely Russia-related charge to take down Trump.
Trump has become the target of impeachment efforts because working with Russian officials would make him vulnerable to compromising information that could be used to blackmail or influence him politically during his presidency.
A former British intelligence officer released a report, which alleged the Russian government had been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Trump for several years. A two-page synopsis of the report was given to both President Barack Obama and Trump, CNN reported Tuesday.
“That is a strong indication that these allegations should be taken seriously,” former NSA legal counsel Susan Hennessey told Forbes. “If there was any evidence that the Trump campaign actively colluded with Russia and committed crimes, that would be the most shocking political scandal in American history ... If sufficient evidence emerges that the FBI has substantiated the allegations or is preparing criminal indictments, then even hardline Republicans in Congress will likely call for Governor Pence to take the oath of office.”
Impeachment does not mean Trump would immediately be stripped of his presidency. If the House of Representatives were to agree he should be impeached, Trump would also have to go through a Senate trial. Then, two-thirds of the Senate would have to agree in order for him to be removed from office.’
Impeachment has been used a few times on presidents. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 over a political conflict stemming from the Civil War. More recently, former President Bill Clinton was impeached on Dec. 19, 1998 over perjury and obstruction of justice after he was found to have lied under oath about his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. However, both Clinton and Johnson were impeached for crimes committed while they were president.
Christopher Lewis Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah, wrote a paper last year arguing Trump could be impeached immediately upon taking office — though not for treason. The report said the “high crimes and misdemeanors” clause for impeaching a sitting president in the Constitution applied to all "ordinary" citizens acting against U.S. law. Peterson claimed Trump could be on the hook for fraudulent activities related to false advertising for his real estate program Trump University.
Treason is equally unlikely some say to bring an impeachment. There have been fewer than 20 treason convictions in American history, and none since the 1950s. Most of those were tied to revolts or wartime espionage; none applied to a President. They contend Trump would, hypothetically, only face impeachment for bribery or for another unspecified crime, either before or during his time in the Oval Office — although some constitutional experts say there’s no precedent for impeaching a President for actions taken before they took office. I am inclined to think if the constant contact of Trump and his enablers occurred during the election process and Russia’s efforts to sway the election to him we have uncharted water and treason should certainly be included. Trump's most likely path to an impeachable offense, experts say, could come from this obscure anti-bribery clause in the Constitution.
Then there is the emoluments clause which says the President cannot “accept any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatsoever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” In other words: No gifts from foreign leaders or diplomats. With his tangle of business interests worldwide — and his refusal to officially cut ties with them — Trump may have been pushing the envelope on this ever since he won the election.
“The whole question now is whether he is going to be violating the Constitution on day one with the emoluments clause,” said John Dean, a former White House Counsel to President Richard Nixon. That would indicate another strong avenue for impeachment as many of his holdings continue to obtain considerable infusion of millions of dollars since his presidency began and he has not even revealed his taxes as every president has done in the past. His children are running much of his powerful assets around the world that continue to provide enormous wealth as no president before him accumulated and his presidency just began. Trump claimed through the campaign he would put his assets into a blind trust if he won. Instead, he revealed he handed the Trump Organization to his sons and will simply not involve himself in the business.
His handoff may be legal for the presidency — but it does little to keep the commander-in-chief away from conflicts of interest, especially since he has been inviting his children into meetings with foreign diplomats.
"With emoluments, presidents usually go out of their way not to have these problems," an authority named Libowitz said. "This is not something we've seen before. It brings incredibly serious issues."
The potential for impeachable conflicts is nearly as vast as Trump's empire. For instance, there are the meetings with foreign diplomats, sometimes from countries where Trump has deals pending, since the election. There are Trump's denials that he has ever done deals with Russia, despite one of his sons once claiming the family saw "money pouring in" from there. There is Trump's new Washington, D.C., hotel, which has been catering to foreign officials visiting the nation's capital.
Trump’s lawyer said earlier this month that’s not a violation of the emoluments clause because that applies to gifts, not business transactions like renting a hotel room. But ethics experts are unconvinced by that argument. For an impeachment, though, Trump would have to be caught explicitly exchanging a political deal for a business deal to be guilty of bribery.
“There would have to be facts showing a quid pro quo,” said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law professor who testified in a hearing for President Bill Clinton's impeachment. "It would be like Watergate — 'Follow the money.' We'd have to be able to follow the money to Trump to know what extent he might be corrupted." "There's a potential there," Gerhardt added, "that just has not existed with other presidents before."
Then there is the crime of perjury to consider. Along with his businesses, Trump brings another liability — literally — with him to the White House: He has been involved in more than 4,000 state and federal lawsuits, according to a USA Today analysis. As the leader of the free world, more than 60 lawsuits come with him that include disputes over contracts, taxes and even his campaign. All will be open and exposing him to scrutiny never before seen.
We have a president that now is openly using his power in ridiculously foolish billion dollar fiascos that could seriously fail such as his imbecilic wall. Many authorities find this concept flawed with no chance Mexico will pay for it despite Trump’s foolish belief they will. Many have said this wall can easily be scaled, or dug under. Meanwhile serious disruption of wildlife will result and twenty billion dollars squandered. If Bannon’s stated goal is to bring down the government, this gigantic boondoggle will be one of many reasons our government might fail with all on its early agenda.