Efforts to impeach Donald Trump
Formal efforts to start the process of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump, who took office in 2017, have been initiated by Representatives Al Green and Brad Sherman, both Democrats. Other people and groups have asserted that Trump has engaged in impeachable activity during his presidency. Talk of impeachment began before Trump took office. Efforts began after a series of events in May 2017. Since the Republicans controlled the House and Senate, the likelihood of impeachment during 2017 and 2018 and the 115th Congress was remote.[nb 1]
At the end of 2017, polls showed that roughly 40 percent of Americans wanted Trump impeached. A December 2017 resolution of impeachment failed in the House by a 58–364 margin. With a November 2018 election win, giving Democrats control of the House in 2019, it is far from certain that they will launch a serious effort towards impeachment; indeed, the question of impeachment may lead to fissures within the party.
- 1 Public debate over impeachment demands
- 2 Initial impeachment efforts
- 3 Proposed grounds for impeachment and timeline
- 4 Timeline
- 5 Lawsuit strategy
- 6 Symbolic municipal resolutions
- 7 Trump statements
- 8 Public opinion polling on impeachment
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
Public debate over impeachment demands
According to Jeffrey Toobin, support for impeachment existed before the 2018 election "on the brink of plausibility," among grassroots activists and a small number of Democratic Party members of and candidates for Congress.
Margaret Sullivan dates the moment when impeachment "seemed to leap across an invisible divide... talk of impeachment, all-but-taboo in Big Media’s coverage of Trump, had moved from the margins into the mainstream," to an Atlantic magazine cover story published online on January 21, 2019.
Initial impeachment efforts
In December 2016, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Dick Durbin, Chris Coons, Ben Cardin and Jeff Merkley introduced a bill that would require the President of the United States to divest any assets that could raise a conflict of interest, including a statement that the failure to divest such assets would constitute high crimes and misdemeanors "under the impeachment clause of the U.S. Constitution." Vanity Fair characterized this as a preemptive effort to lay the groundwork for a future impeachment argument. Concerns had previously been expressed that Trump's extensive business and real estate dealings, especially with respect to government agencies in other countries, may violate the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, sparking debate as to whether that is the case.
Immediately after his inauguration, The Independent and The Washington Post each reported on efforts already underway to impeach Trump, based on what the organizers regard as conflicts of interest arising from Trump's ability to use his political position to promote the interests of "Trump"-branded businesses, and ongoing payments by foreign entities to businesses within the Trump business empire as a violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause. In March 2017, China provisionally granted 38 "Trump" trademark applications that were set to take permanent effect in 90 days, which were noted to come in close proximity to Trump making policy decisions favorable to China.
The Washington Post further noted the creation of ImpeachDonaldTrumpNow.org by Free Speech For People and RootsAction, two liberal advocacy groups. On February 9, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D, NY) had filed a resolution of inquiry titled "H.Con.Res. 5" to force the Trump administration to turn over documents relating to potential conflicts of interest and to ties with Russia. Some sources have identified this as the first step in the process of impeaching Trump. Fox News has outlined two potential bases for impeachment, one being the Emoluments Clause and the other being complicity with Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election. On March 21, it was widely reported that senior Congresswoman Maxine Waters tweeted "Get ready for impeachment," which Waters explained was in reference to the allegations of collusion with Russian interference in the election.
The Impeach Trump Leadership PAC, a United States political action committee, was started in February 2017 by California Democratic Party congressional candidate Boyd Roberts, who filed documents with the Federal Election Commission to create the PAC on February 13.
On January 17, 2019, new accusations involving Trump surfaced, claiming he instructed his long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie under oath surrounding Trump's involvement with the Russian government to erect a Trump Tower in Moscow. This has caused for new concerns within the Trump presidency, invoking many to call for an investigation and for the President to "resign or be impeached" should such claims be proven genuine.
Proposed grounds for impeachment and timeline
Actions and revelations
Following Trump's dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, multiple Democratic members of Congress discussed an "impeachment clock" for Trump, saying that he was "moving" toward impeachment and raising the future possibility of bringing forth articles of impeachment for obstruction of justice and criminal malfeasance, if proof of illegal activity were found. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut stated in an interview: "It may well produce another United States v. Nixon on a subpoena that went to United States Supreme Court. It may well produce impeachment proceedings, although we're very far from that possibility."
Later in May, news of Trump's disclosure of classified information to Russia led to further discussions about the possibility of impeachment, with Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) in particular alluding to the possibility.
At around the same time in May, the revelation that the president had asked Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn led still more observers, including Senator Angus King (I-ME), to say that impeachment might be in the offing.
The developments led Senator John McCain (R-AZ) to venture that matters had reached "Watergate scope and size." This was in reference to the Watergate scandal of the 1972–1974 period and, possibly, to the impeachment process against Richard Nixon.
Preparations for possible proceedings
Impeachment proceedings begin with a resolution being introduced in the House of Representatives. The first two Representatives to publicly suggest such an action were Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Al Green (D-TX).
On May 17, Representative Green made a call for impeachment on the house floor and House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) announced that he was issuing subpoenas on the memo that FBI director James Comey wrote detailing possible obstruction of justice by the President. On May 24, Green told CSPAN in an interview that he was drafting articles of impeachment and would shortly submit them as a privileged resolution, to begin the formal impeachment process.
However, some major Democratic figures have stressed the need for caution, patience and bipartisanship in any potential impeachment process.
Independent counsel appointment
On May 17, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, acting after the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to lead a Special Counsel investigation to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and any cover-up related to it by Trump or any White House officials. According to sources close to the White House, the Trump administration is considering using various obscure legal means to slow down the investigation and undermine the special counsel.
Former FBI Director James Comey agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8. Shortly after the date of Comey's testimony was announced however, there was talk of the Trump administration invoking Executive Privilege to block Comey from testifying. Some legal experts and politicians, such as Representative Eric Swalwell of California, argued that Trump's numerous comments in news interviews and on Twitter regarding the subjects Comey would testify on (such as whether or not Trump tried to improperly influence or coerce Comey and the reasons why Trump fired him) may well have voided the validity of an Executive Privilege claim in this instance.
On June 7, an advance copy of Comey's prepared congressional testimony was submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee in which he said that the President attempted to persuade him to "let go" of any investigation into Michael Flynn on February 14. He added that Trump requested his personal loyalty, to which Comey replied he would give his "honest loyalty" to the President. Comey said Trump on several occasions inquired whether there were an investigation into the President himself and Comey replied each time there was not. Comey states that Trump requested that he publicly declare this so that Trump's image could be improved, but Comey says he told the President he would need to have approval from the Attorney General's office for reasons of legality.
Comey recounted his final conversation with President Trump on April 11:
On the morning of April 11, the President called me and asked what I had done about his request that I "get out" that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back. He replied that "the cloud" was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. He said that perhaps he would have his people reach out to the Acting Deputy Attorney General. I said that was the way his request should be handled. I said the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel.
He said he would do that and added, "Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know." I did not reply or ask him what he meant by "that thing". I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.
That was the last time I spoke with President Trump.
On June 7, Congressman Al Green announced that Congressman Brad Sherman would join with him in drafting articles of impeachment against President Trump. On June 12, Sherman began circulating an article of impeachment among his colleagues. Sherman said: "I'm not going to be deterred." Green stated: "In the spirit of keeping the republic, I have concluded that the president has obstructed justice and in so doing, the remedy for obstruction of justice is impeachment. The president will not be indicted while he is in office, and while there is some merit in talking about the judicial process, the impeachment process is the one that will bring him before the bar of justice."
Former United States Attorney Preet Bharara said in a June 11 interview with ABC News that "there's absolutely evidence to begin a case" regarding obstruction of justice by Trump. Bharara went on to note: "No one knows right now whether there is a provable case of obstruction. [But] there's no basis to say there's no obstruction."
On June 14, The Washington Post reported that Trump was being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for possible obstruction of justice relating to his actions in regard to the investigation into Russia.
On July 12, Congressman Sherman formally introduced in the House of Representatives an Article of Impeachment (H.Res. 438), accusing the President of obstructing and impeding the investigation of justice, regarding the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The Democrats in the House Judiciary committee demanded that hearings begin as soon as possible, but the Republicans demurred, rewriting the request in favor of investigations into Hillary Clinton's emails.
August to November 2017
In August 2017, following controversial comments by Trump about the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Representative Steve Cohen announced that he would introduce articles of impeachment because Trump had "failed the presidential test of moral leadership."
There was a brief debate about impeaching the president before a privileged resolution introduced by Representative Al Green was withdrawn. In late October, progressive activist hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer funded an impeachment campaign that quickly garnered 1.3 million signatures. By mid-November, the campaign had garnered over 1.9 million signatures. As of December 2018, the campaign's signature count is over 6.5 million.
On November 15, six Democrats including Cohen introduced H.Res. 621 with five articles of impeachment. Cohen said that Trump's "train of injuries to our Constitution must be brought to an end." The five accusations were "obstruction of justice," "violation of the foreign emoluments clause," "violation of the domestic emoluments clause," "undermining the independence of the federal judiciary" and "undermining the freedom of the press." Many Democrats opposed this action.
A survey showed nearly 40% of American citizens were in favour of impeachment (up from 30% in February), with almost 75% of Democrats and 7% of Republicans supporting possible impeachment, although Trump's approval rating among Republicans fell from 91% in June to 79% in November. For impeachment to occur, a simple majority is needed in the House and for conviction/removal from office to occur a two-thirds majority is needed in the Senate. At the time both the House and Senate were controlled by Republicans. At this date, 12 Republican Senators had individually indicated a willingness to take action against Trump's presidency: if supported by all 48 Democratic Senators, 8 more Republican Senators would be needed to successfully remove the President.
December 2017/January 2018 House votes
On December 6, a second privileged resolution on articles of impeachment, H.Res. 646, was brought on the floor by Representative Al Green, Democrat of Texas. The resolution listed two articles, i.e. proposed reasons for impeachment: "Associating the Presidency with White Nationalism, Neo-Nazism and Hatred" and "Inciting Hatred and Hostility." House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, moved for the resolution to be defeated ("tabled"), which was agreed to by a 364–58 vote with four members voting present.
Among Republicans, 238 voted to table the articles of impeachment and one did not vote. Among Democrats, 126 voted to table the articles of impeachment, 58 voted against tabling the articles of impeachment, four voted "present" and five did not vote.
Green's effort did not receive the support of Democratic leadership. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer issued a statement saying that "[l]egitimate questions have been raised about [Trump's] fitness to lead this nation," but that "[n]ow is not the time to consider articles of impeachment" given ongoing investigations by congressional committees as well as the investigation by the special counsel.
On January 19, 2018, Green brought up the resolution a second time. On this attempt his motion was defeated by a vote of 355–66. 234 Republicans and 121 Democrats voted against the motion. All the votes for the motion were from Democrats: three Democrats voted present and three Republicans and three Democrats did not cast a vote.
The 2018 mid-term elections
The matter became an issue, primarily for Republicans, in the midterm elections, with both conservatives and the president himself warning of dire consequences if he is impeached. The Democrats won control of the House, and they have promised to launch investigations into various actions by Trump and his administration, but Democratic leaders were reported as reluctant to address impeachment, at least until after the report of the Special Counsel is released.
The post 2018 mid-term elections
On March 11, 2019, Nancy Pelosi said, "I'm not for impeachment, Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he's just not worth it. No. I don't think he is. I mean, ethically unfit. Intellectually unfit. Curiosity wise unfit. No, I don't think he's fit to be president of the United States." She then scolded herself for "coming across too negatively".
With the Democrats in control of The House, and with a direct impeachment inquiry deemed somewhat toxic, The work of investigations into Trump's possible crimes were divided into several committees while waiting for some outside force, such as the Meuller probe or the Southern District to force the Democratic leadership's hands.
Hearings and investigations, December 2018-February 2019
- December 2018: The ranking members of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees place job listings in search of experienced lawyers to aid in investigations of Trump and his administration.
- January 2, 2019: Speaker-Designate Nancy Pelosi, in an interview with Today's Savannah Guthrie, refuses to rule out an impeachment inquiry.
- January 3:
- The new Democratic Congress convenes. Jerrold Nadler takes over the House Judiciary Committee as chairman. He has stated that he will file another resolution and its subsidiary subpoenas for inquiries relating to possible criminal charges associated with the Stormy Daniels affair and the conspiracy convictions of Michael Cohen related to it.
- H.Res.13, the first of several impeachment resolutions, is introduced into the House by Representative Brad Sherman.
- January 13: In response to Trump's public statements about Michael Cohen, representatives Elijah E. Cummings, Adam Schiff, and Nadler issued a joint statement warning Trump against interfering in the upcoming Cohen hearings, saying "Our nation's laws prohibit efforts to discourage, intimidate, or otherwise pressure a witness not to provide testimony to Congress."
- January 16: The Inspector General of the GSA issues report declaring that the President may have violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution and chastised the lawyers in the case for refusing to consider the possibility.
- February 4: H.Res.13 is referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Justice.
- February 8: Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker testifies before the House Judiciary committee, primarily on the subject of the Meuller investigation, and possible attempts to stop it.
- February 26:
- Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen testifies in private before the Senate Intelligence Committee to correct the record on possible kompromat which the Russians might have on the President.
- Whitaker is invited to return to testify before the House Judiciary Committee to possibly correct the record on obstruction of Justice by the president.
February 27: The Michael Cohen hearings
On February 27, 2019, Cohen publicly testified before the House Oversight committee on possible high crimes and misdemeanors committed by President Trump both prior and after taking office. His testimony occurred under oath, which also means additional criminal charges of perjury could be filed if it were proven that he lied.
In his opening remarks, obtained in advance by the New York Times, he expresses his regret and shame at lying to Congress and working for a "racist" and a "con man", and accuses Trump of numerous lies and illegal actions. White House officials dismissed the credibility of his testimony in advance, calling him a "disgraced felon" and "convicted liar".
During his testimony, Cohen described how he protected Trump from potential scandals during the 2016 campaign through payoffs. He stated that he and National Enquirer owner David Pecker conspired to "catch and kill" potentially damaging stories about Trump and that Trump also was concerned that the allegations by Stormy Daniels and other women would result in the general public being reminded of a tape which aired on Access Hollywood at the beginning of October 2016 where Trump was caught a decade prior discussing how he groped, grabbed and kissed women without their permission. He also stated that Trump would inflate his personal wealth for financial benefits, such as a failed bid to buy the Buffalo Bills, and that he and Trump conspired with Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg and the President's son Donald Trump Jr. to organize more payoffs in 2017. Cohen also showed lawmakers a check for $35,000 which the President wrote to him on August 1, 2017, and stated that it was used as a part of a hush money payoff to Stormy Daniels as well.
Hearings and investigations, February 2019 and after
- February 28: Cohen testifies in private before the House Intelligence Committee.
- March 3: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler announces requests for over sixty documents from the White House and other sources in his overisight investigtions.
- March 4: The House Judiciary issues requests to 81 people for documents and testimony in a "pre-impeachment" investigation into obstruction of justice and other alleged threats to the rule of law.
- March 6: Cohen finishes testimony at the HIC.
- March 22: Meuller report is delivered to the Attorney General.
- March 27: Felix Sater to testify in public before the HIC on the subject of the Trump Tower Moscow project and possible impeachable offenses related to it.
Many of the lawsuits filed against Trump ask for declaratory relief. This remedy differs from injunctive relief (an order to do something or stop) and damages. A court's declaratory judgment compels no action as it simply resolves a legal question. For example, a court may simply declare that a device does not infringe another's patent. A declaration that the president has accepted emoluments would make the work of House Managers easier in an impeachment. Blumenthal v. Trump asks for declaratory relief as to emoluments. In CREW and National Security Archive v. Trump and EOP, a declaratory finding that the administration willfully failed to retain records would support a charge of obstruction of justice. Some observers think the emoluments cases are unlikely to go anywhere, for lack of standing. The CREW v. Trump case was dismissed in December 2017 for lack of standing. Blumenthal v. Trump, on the other hand, was not.
Symbolic municipal resolutions
City councils that have made formal resolutions calling for the impeachment of President Trump include those in the San Francisco Bay Area cities of Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond as well as the city of Los Angeles. On the East Coast, the Cambridge, Massachusetts city council passed a policy order to support a House resolution to investigate Emoluments Clause conflicts.
During an August 2018 Fox & Friends interview, Trump was asked about the possible ramifications of him being potentially impeached after his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to charges and implied he had done so by Trump's direction. Trump stated, "I don't know how you can impeach someone who's done a great job. I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor. Because without this [points at his head, referring to his brain and his thinking], you would see numbers that you wouldn't believe in reverse."
In a January 2019 tweet, Trump expressed bewilderment at the possibility, saying among other things, "How do you impeach a president who [...] had the most successful first two years of any president?"
Public opinion polling on impeachment
Public opinion is a key factor in impeachment proceedings as politicians including those in the House of Representatives look to opinion polls to assess the tenor of those they represent. First and foremost action would have to be based on the requisite legal grounds for impeachment, with such action being more likely in the face of support from public opinion.
As of January 26, 2017, Public Policy Polling reported that 35% of voters supported the impeachment of President Trump, while 50% opposed. By the following week, after the controversial rollout of Executive Order 13769, which barred people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, support for impeachment had grown to 40%. The following week, support for impeachment reached 46%, matching opposition to impeachment.
In May 2017, after the firing of James Comey, for the first time more Americans supported impeaching Trump (48%) than opposed impeaching Trump (41%), with 11% not sure. At the beginning of August 2017, one poll showed that number falling substantially with 53% of people being opposed to impeachment and 40% in favor, according to PRRI studies, but by the end of August 2017 and following political fallout from the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, 48% of people were again in favor of impeachment and 41% were opposed.
In December 2017, Public Policy Polling conducted the first public poll showing majority support for impeachment (51% support, 42% oppose, 7% not sure).
- Efforts to impeach Barack Obama
- Efforts to impeach Dick Cheney
- Efforts to impeach George W. Bush
- Impeachment investigations of United States federal officials
- Impeachment March
- Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
- Impeachment of Bill Clinton
- Impeachment process against Richard Nixon
- The Case for Impeachment by Allan Lichtman
- Trump: The Kremlin Candidate?, documentary film
- Some commentators have noted that a president can have his powers and duties suspended under the 25th Amendment of the Constitution. See:
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'You look at the bill Sen. Warren sponsored,' he added. 'The lawsuits ask for declaratory judgment to fill in very wide gaps and reasoning.'
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That the City Council call upon the United States House of Representatives to support a resolution authorizing and directing the House Committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether sufficient grounds exist for the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, including but not limited to the violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution.
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Public opinion matters because for impeachment to happen, Congress must act, and elected officials sometimes hang their principles on opinion polls.
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So the House of Representatives could turn against Mr Trump, and there could be sufficient legal grounds to impeach him. But to actually kickstart start the mechanism for removing him from office there would probably have to be a shift in public opinion.
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