Efforts to impeach Donald Trump

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First working day after inauguration. Vice President Mike Pence on the left and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon on the right as White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro stand behind

Formal efforts to start the process of impeachment against President Donald Trump, who took office in 2017, have been initiated by Representatives Al Green and Brad Sherman, both Democrats.[1][2] Other people and groups have asserted that Trump has engaged in impeachable activity during his presidency.[3][4] Talk of impeachment began before Trump took office.[5][6] Efforts began after a series of events in May 2017.[7][8][9] Since the Republicans control both the House and the Senate, the likelihood of impeachment during the 2017–2019 115th Congress is remote.[10][11][nb 1]

At the end of 2017, polls showed that more than 40 percent of Americans wanted Trump impeached.[12] Nevertheless, even if Democrats were to regain control of House and Senate, it is far from certain that they would launch a serious effort towards impeachment.[11] A December 2017 resolution of impeachment failed in the House by a 58–364 margin.[13]

Initial impeachment efforts[edit]

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."[5] Vanity Fair characterized this as a preemptive effort to lay the groundwork for a future impeachment argument.[5] 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,[6] sparking debate as to whether that is the case.[14][15]

Elizabeth Warren discusses the work of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with community bankers at the ICBA conference in San Diego

Immediately after his inauguration, The Independent and The Washington Post each reported on efforts already underway to impeach Trump, based on asserted 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.[3][4] 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.[16]

The Washington Post further noted the creation of ImpeachDonaldTrumpNow.org by Free Speech For People and RootsAction, two liberal advocacy groups.[4] 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.[17] Some sources have identified this as the first step in the process of impeaching Trump.[18][19] 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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22]

Proposed grounds for impeachment and timeline[edit]

May 2017[edit]

Actions and revelations[edit]

James Comey on why he believes he was fired

Following Trump's dismissal of 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.[7][8] 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."[9]

Later in May, news of Donald 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.[23]

At almost the same time in May, the revelation that the chief executive had asked Director Comey to let Flynn get a pass led still more observers, including Senator Angus King (I-ME), to say that impeachment might be in the offing.[24]

Senator John McCain speaking with supporters at a campaign rally with fellow Senators Joni Ernst, Cory Gardner, David Perdue and Dan Sullivan at Team McCain headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona

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.[25]

Preparations for possible proceedings[edit]

Congressman Al Green's Floor Speech on the Impeachment of President Trump
Congressman Luis Gutierrez: "It is the Judiciary Committee in the House where impeachment begins"

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)[26] and Al Green (D-TX).[27]

Two Republican Representatives, Justin Amash (R-MI) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), have called for impeachment on the grounds that obstruction of justice charges against Trump were proven true.[28]

On May 17, Representative Green made a call for impeachment on the house floor[29][30] 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.[31] 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.[32]

However, some major Democratic figures have stressed the need for caution, patience and bipartisanship in any potential impeachment process.[33]

Administration officials have said that White House lawyers are indeed researching impeachment proceedings and how to deal with them.[34][35]

Independent counsel appointment[edit]

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,[36] and any cover-up related to it by Trump or any White House officials.[37][38] 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.[39][40]

June 2017[edit]

Former FBI Director James Comey agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8.[41] 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.[citation needed] 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.[42]

On June 7, an advance copy of Comey's prepared congressional testimony was submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee[43] in which he said that the President attempted to persuade him to "let go" of any investigation into Michael Flynn on February 14.[44] He added that Trump requested his personal loyalty, to which Comey replied he would give his "honest loyalty" to the President.[45] Comey said Trump on several occasions inquired whether there were an investigation into the President himself and Comey replied each time there was not.[46] 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.[47]

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.[45]

"Impeaching Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors" by Congressman Brad Sherman

On June 7, Congressman Al Green announced that Congressman Brad Sherman would join with him in drafting articles of impeachment against President Trump.[1] On June 12, Sherman began circulating an article of impeachment among his colleagues.[2] Sherman said: "I'm not going to be deterred."[1] 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."[1]

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.[48] 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."[48]

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.[49]

July 2017[edit]

On July 12, Congressman Sherman formally introduced in the House of Representatives an Article of Impeachment (H.Res. 438),[50] accusing the President of obstructing and impeding the investigation of justice, regarding the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.[51]

The Democrats in the House Judiciary committee demanded that hearings begin as soon as possible,[52] but the Republicans demurred, rewriting the request in favor of investigations into Hillary Clinton's emails.[citation needed]

August to October 2017[edit]

Charlottesville Unite the Right rally

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."[53][54]

Progressive activist hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer

There was a brief debate about impeaching the president before a privileged resolution introduced by Representative Al Green was withdrawn.[55][56] In late October, progressive activist hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer funded an impeachment campaign that quickly garnered 1.3 million signatures.[57] By mid-November, the campaign had garnered over 1.9 million signatures.[58]

November 2017[edit]

Representative Steve Cohen, one of six[59] Democrats who introduced H.Res. 621 with five articles of impeachment, said on November 15 that "his train of injuries to our Constitution must be brought to an end."[60] 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."[59] Many Democrats opposed this action.[60]

A survey showed nearly 40% of American citizens was 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.[59] 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. Both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans. So far, 12 Republican Senators have 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.[59]

December 2017/January 2018 House votes[edit]

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."[61] 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.[13]

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.[62]

President-elect Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi smile for a photo during the 58th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C., January 20, 2017.

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.[13]

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.[63][64]

Lawsuit strategy[edit]

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.[65] 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.[66] Some observers think the emoluments cases are unlikely to go anywhere, for lack of standing.[67]

Symbolic municipal resolutions[edit]

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[68][69][70] as well as the city of Los Angeles.[71] On the East Coast, the Cambridge, Massachusetts city council passed a policy order to support a House resolution to investigate Emoluments Clause conflicts.[72]

Public opinion on impeachment[edit]

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.[73][74][75] First and foremost action would have to be necessitated on the requisite legal grounds for impeachment, with such action being more likely in the face of support from public opinion.[73][74][75]

As of January 26, 2017, Public Policy Polling reported that 35% of voters supported the impeachment of President Trump, with 50% opposed.[76] 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%.[77] The following week, support for impeachment reached 46%, matching opposition to impeachment.[78]

In May 2017, for the first time more Americans supported impeaching Trump (48%) than opposed impeaching Trump (41%), with 11% not sure.[79] 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,[80] 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.[81]

In December 2017, Public Policy Polling conducted the first public poll showing majority support for impeachment (51% support, 42% oppose, 7% not sure).[82]

General polling[edit]

Poll source Date(s)
administered
Sample size
Sample
Margin of error
Support Impeachment/Yes Oppose Impeachment/No Undecided/Don't know
Public Policy Polling January 23–24, 2017 1,043 Registered voters ± 3.0% 35% 50% 15%
Public Policy Polling January 30–31, 2017 725 Registered voters ± 3.6% 40% 48% 12%
Public Policy Polling February 7–8, 2017 712 Registered voters ± 3.7% 46% 46% 9%
PRRI# February 10–19, 2017 1,050 Adults ± 2.6% 30% 65% 5%
Public Policy Polling February 21–22, 2017 941 Registered voters ± 3.2% 41% 46% 13%
Public Policy Polling March 10–12, 2017 808 Registered voters ± 3.4% 44% 45% 12%
Public Policy Polling March 27–28, 2017 677 Registered voters ± 3.8% 44% 45% 13%
Public Policy Polling April 17–18, 2017 648 Registered voters ± 3.9% 40% 48% 12%
Public Policy Polling May 12–14, 2017 692 Registered voters ± 3.7% 48% 41% 11%
Morning Consult/Politico* May 18–22, 2017 1,938 Registered voters ± 2% 38% 46% 16%
Morning Consult/Politico* May 25–30, 2017 1,991 Registered voters ± 2% 43% 45% 13%
Public Policy Polling June 9–11, 2017 811 Registered voters ± 3.4% 47% 43% 10%
Monmouth University** July 13–16, 2017 800 Adults ± 3.5% 41% 53% 6%
Public Policy Polling July 14–17, 2017 836 Registered voters ± 3.4% 45% 43% 12%
Survey USA/USA Today/iMediaEthics July 17–19, 2017 1,330 Adults ± 2.8% 42% 42% 15%
PRRI# August 2–8, 2017 1,002 Adults ± 2.7% 40% 53% 7%
Public Policy Polling August 18–21, 2017 887 Registered voters ± 3.3% 48% 41% 11%
Public Policy Polling September 22–25, 2017 865 Registered voters ± 3.3% 48% 43% 9%
PRRI# October 18–30, 2017 2,019 Adults ± 2.6% 40% 56% 4%
Morning Consult/Politico* October 26–30, 2017 1,990 Registered voters ± 2% 40% 49% 11%
Public Policy Polling October 27–29, 2017 572 Registered voters ± 4.1% 49% 41% 10%
Public Policy Polling December 11–12, 2017 862 Registered voters ± 3.3% 51% 42% 7%
NBC News/Wall Street Journal†† December 13–15, 2017 900 Adults ± 3.27% 41% 54% 5%
Monmouth University** January 28–30, 2018 806 Adults ± 3.5% 38% 57% 4%
Public Policy Polling February 9–11, 2018 687 Registered voters ± 3.7% 45% 44% 11%
Public Policy Polling March 23–25, 2018 846 Registered voters ± 3.4% 46% 45% 9%
Morning Consult/Politico* March 26–27, 2018 1,997 Registered voters ± 2% 39% 48% 13%
SSRS/CNN*** June 14–17, 2018 1,012 Adults ± 3.7% 42% 51% 7%

‡ Question was "Based on what you've read and heard, do you think the Congress should? ... Or should not? ... impeach Donald Trump and remove him from the presidency, or are you not sure?"

*** Question was: "Based on what you have read or heard, do you believe that President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, or don't you feel that way?"

** Question was: "Do you think President Trump should be impeached and compelled to leave the Presidency, or not?"

* Question was: "As you may know, the first step toward removing a president from office is impeachment. Do you believe Congress should or should not begin impeachment proceedings to remove President Trump from office?"

† Question was "Would you support or oppose impeaching Donald Trump?"

# Question was: "Do you believe the President Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office, or don't you feel that way?"

†† Conducted by Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies. Question was: "Do you believe that Congress should hold impeachment hearings to remove Donald Trump from office or not?"

Polling about certain conditions[edit]

Poll source Date(s)
administered
Question Sample size
Sample
Margin of error
Support Impeachment/Yes Oppose Impeachment/No Undecided/Don't know
Quinnipiac January 5–9, 2018 "If the Democratic party wins control of the House of Representatives in 2018, would you like to see them begin the process to impeach President Trump, or not?" 1,106 Registered voters ± 3.6% 45% 51% 5%
USA Today/Suffolk University June 13–18, 2018 "If President Trump did pardon himself, would you support the House of Representatives then pursuing impeachment?" 1,000 Registered voters ± 3% 57.6% 28.9% 13.5%

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Some commentators have noted that a president can have his powers and duties suspended under the 25th Amendment of the Constitution. See: Under the 25th Amendment, the President would then appoint a Vice President designate, who would take office after confirmation by both houses of Congress. See: If Trump were impeached and convicted, the next people in the presidential line of succession are the Vice President, currently Mike Pence, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives, currently Paul Ryan, then the Senate president pro tempore, currently Orrin Hatch. See:

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]