Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, December 4th, 2017.

How Can We Impeach Thee? Let Me Count the Ways

Trump Maladministration

A quick rundown …

Obstruction of Justice.  There’s a hell of an obstruction of justice case against Trump just based on what he’s done publicly. The obstruction of justice case was a slam dunk months ago, in fact. And he’s too stupid to stop digging that hole. So now it’s like a slam dunk and a whole bunch of free throws. One of his lawyers has put out the bizarre argument that presidents cannot obstruct justice. But Trump’s attorney general, Jeff “Stars and Bars” Sessions, is on record as having a different opinion. So good luck getting out of that one, Donny.

The Emoluments Clause. The Constitution says that U.S. officials may not may not accept money, gifts or titles of nobility from foreign governments, and that no monetary benefit (other than salary) should be derived by holding office.

But what happens when a president has businesses on the side with foreign governments? Trump had promised his business would not make new deals with foreign governments while he is in office, but he keeps breaking that promise. And we’re in new territory here.

Anita Kumar reported for McClatchy today that

A construction company owned in part by the governments of Saudi Arabia and South Korea plans to build a Trump-branded luxury resort development in Indonesia despite a vow from Donald Trump that his family business would not make any deals with foreign government entities while he serves as president. …

… McClatchy reported in September that a major construction company owned by the Chinese government was awarded a $32-million contract to build a six-lane road as part of the residential piece of the Trump World Golf Club Dubai project.

And this is a problem because …

Walter Shaub, who served as the director of the Office of Government Ethics until July, said it was a “foregone conclusion” that Trump would have numerous conflicts of interests after he made the decision to retain his business. “Just about every decision he makes puts him under cloud of suspicion,” Shaub said. “It became inevitable because he didn’t sell. It’s precisely why he should have divested.”

Now every time his company does business in a foreign country or with a foreign entity, Trump faces a fresh set of questions: Is a foreign government gaining access to him because of his business? Is the business deal a factor in U.S. foreign policy? Is a foreign government building goodwill with him because of his company? …

…Ethics experts, including those involved in three separate lawsuits accusing Trump of violating the so-called emoluments clause of the Constitution, say the latest agreements with Posco could violate the law depending on what kind of influence the foreign governments have on the company and whether the Trump Organization is receiving a benefit.

The Logan Act. No one has ever been prosecuted under the Logan Act, but it’s been on the books since 1799.

The Logan Act makes it a crime for a United States citizen, “without authority” from the federal government, to communicate with foreign officials in order to “influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government” in a dispute with the United States or “to defeat the measures of the United States.” A conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to three years. …

… The statute applies squarely to Mr. Flynn. According to court filings, a “very senior member” of the Trump transition team told Mr. Flynn on or about Dec. 22, 2016, to contact officials from Russia and other foreign governments regarding a resolution pending before the United Nations Security Council that condemned Israeli settlement activity. Mr. Flynn then asked the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, to delay a vote on the resolution or use Russia’s veto to prevent it from passing.

There appears to be a broad consensus now that the “very senior member” was Jared “Back Channel” Kushner, who has his own problems with Russians. But were other members of the transition team in the dark about what Kushner and Flynn were up to? That’s extremely doubtful.

Collusion. And, finally, we get to the old “did Russia help Trump win the election” question. Brian Beutler writes,

There is more than enough evidence to say definitively that the Trump administration colluded with Russia, and there is every reason to believe the plot encompassed criminal activity, even if that activity remains invisible for now. …

…We know that Russian spies approached the Trump campaign offering assistance in the election multiple times. At least twice, Russians dangled the lure of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including stolen emails, and both times, Trump campaign officials (George Papadopoulos and Donald Trump, Jr.) expressed interest. Trump, Jr. was particularly enthusiastic about the idea of cooperating with the Russians, and shortly after he welcomed Russian spies to Trump tower for a meeting about “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, he coordinated messaging with Wikileaks, which operated last summer and fall as a cutout for Russian hackers.

After repeatedly communicating to Russia (in public and in private) that they welcomed interference in the election, Trump and his aides cast public doubt on whether the saboteurs were Russians at all. When Trump went on to win the election after benefiting from this interference, members of his inner circle, through Michael Flynn, secretly connived with Russia to subvert the countermeasures the American government had undertaken as penalties for Russia’s interference. …

… Meanwhile, Trump’s pretense that Flynn did no wrong but to lie to Vice President Mike Pence is falling apart, as it becomes increasingly clear that Flynn was honest with the entire team about his communication with Russian agents, and they all agreed to tell lies about it to the public. Trump admitted on Saturday that he knew Flynn had repeated those lies to the FBI at the time he ousted Flynn, and at the time he beseeched FBI Director James Comey to let Flynn off the hook. The president is for this and a myriad other reasons the subject of an obstruction investigation.

At this point, to say collusion allegations remain unproven is materially misleading. Collusion has been conclusively proven; we are in the process of learning how extensive it was, and whether, in the course of it, American conspirators committed federal crimes.

I have argued several times that we don’t know if whatever the Russians did had any measurable effect on the election, but just attempting to use the help of a foreign government to win a presidential election is, um, bad.

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