The United States is a nation where presidential overreaches, outright abuses of power, and largely successful attempts to undermine our constitution’s system of checks and balances stretches back over generations – and, in fact, one can find examples dating to the earliest days of our democratic republic.
Whether or not these scandals amounted to “high crimes and misdemeanors” was ultimately up for Congress to decide. And because the standard for removal is so high – two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor – Congress has never successfully removed a president from office. (Richard Nixon willingly resigned after losing the support of his party in Congress.)
It can be argued that the past several presidents committed impeachable offenses. Iran-Contra plagued Reagan’s second term and could have easily sunk his presidency if evidence had emerged that he had personally gone around an Iranian arms embargo and funded the Contras in Nicaragua, despite Congress explicitly prohibiting funding. His successor, George H. W. Bush, was directly involved in Iran-Contra.
Bill Clinton was impeached on perjury and obstruction of justice in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, although the votes in the Senate were not there to remove him from office. George W. Bush sent the country to war in Iraq based on false pretenses. And while there is no evidence that the president knowingly misled the public, members of his administration – including former vice president Dick Cheney – certainly did. Cheney successfully ruined the career of a CIA agent whose husband was a whistleblower within the Bush administration.
For his part, Barack Obama expanded executive power during his presidency, despite running a campaign for president that was largely based on rolling back the most egregious abuses of the Bush administration. After condemning rival Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary for voting to invade Iraq, Obama launched a war in Libya without Congressional approval and followed up with military strikes in Yemen and Syria.
Obama himself says that his administration’s lack of planning after toppling Gaddafi was the worst mistake of his presidency, although he says that he does not regret the decision to intervene. And while critical of the Bush administration’s policies on civil liberties as a candidate, as president, Obama both renewed domestic spying programs and prosecuted whistleblowers at historic rates – twice as many prosecutions as all previous administrations combined, in fact – laying the groundwork for Donald Trump’s attacks on the free press.
Taken together, these historical offenses – all of which amounted to varying degrees of abuses of power and some of which arguably warranted at least the threat of impeachment – pale in comparison to the unprecedented abuses occurring during the presidency of Donald Trump.
Donald Trump has committed a litany of impeachable offenses; so many, in fact, that one cannot even attempt to document every single offense in a single 1,500-word article. Instead, this piece will cite several glaring examples of abuses that warrant impeachment. Taken together, the case for Donald Trump’s impeachment is stronger than the case for impeachment of any other president in living memory and arguably in our nation’s history.
Near the top of the list of impeachable offenses is the fact that Trump directly profits from his office. He does so openly, brazenly, and at multiple levels. He steers foreign diplomats, domestic political organizations, and American businesses to his properties to the tune of at least $16 million, which helped his hotel earn $40 million in 2017 alone. Trump has used his role as the head of state to win favored treatment for family businesses overseas. These actions are in direct violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from profiting from their position of power. (Although not impeachable, during the 2016 campaign, then-candidate Trump billed taxpayers $1.6 million for Secret Service agents flying with the candidate on his own private jet.)
Likewise, Trump profits whenever he spends one of many weekends at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump-branded golf resorts. Not only do taxpayers foot the bill to the tune of $3.4 million per visit, the 245 days (and counting) at Trump properties also serve as free marketing to promote his businesses.
According to the Government Accountability Office, taxpayers were left on the hook for a $60,000 payment to Trump’s business for just four separate visits to Mar-a-Lago. Keep in mind that these are just the payments that we know about. The president is undoubtedly milking taxpayers for far more than what has been reported as the Republican-controlled Congress refused to perform its oversight duties during Trump’s first two years in office.
Using the presidency to advance his own business interests and personally profiting from his decisions as president are not the only impeachable offenses. Trump conspired to commit campaign finance violations with his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, reimbursing Cohen in a hush money scheme right before the 2016 election to keep the lid on an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels. Cohen has already pleaded guilty to multiple felonies. Prosecutors have established that the crimes were both at the direction of Donald Trump and to the benefit of Donald Trump.
And then there is the matter of Trump’s overt, barely disguised racism and open defense of white supremacists. In a stunning betrayal of American values, Trump defended neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, saying that there were “very fine people on both sides.” The side that Trump was defending flew Nazi flags in the streets of an American city, chanted Nazi propaganda, and murdered counter protester Heather Heyer.
His defense of neo-Nazis as president complements his hate-filled rhetoric on the campaign trail and endorsements from leading white supremacists, including former KKK leader David Duke. Just to further highlight white supremacists’ gleeful enthusiasm for Trump, Duke called Trump’s win “one of the most exciting nights of my life.”
And if defending neo-Nazis and white supremacists is not enough, Trump has repeatedly failed in his basic duty to protect the nation that he swore to defend. Hate crimes are rising and so too are the number of hate groups. One of his supporters is a domestic terrorist who has been charged with sending over a dozen bombs to prominent Trump critics.
Meanwhile, Trump continues his attacks on the press as the “enemy of the people” and taunts a member of Congress who has received death threats from his supporters, all while he maintains that white supremacy is not a growing threat in the US or the world. His comments, it should be noted, came right after an anti-Muslim massacre left 50 people dead at a mosque in New Zealand. The shooter specifically praised Trump in his manifesto, which should be no surprise, given that they use virtually the same language.
Of course, Trump also encouraged violence at his 2016 campaign rallies. Rather than championing leaders of the free world, he mocks American war heroes and frequently praises foreign dictators who use violence to hold and consolidate power, and he has unapologetically quoted fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
If his admiration for dictators is not warning enough, just as troubling is his willingness to break constitutional restraints on executive power. His dogged pursuit of the consolidation of power in the executive branch has led him to usurp Congress’ power of the purse, declaring a fake national emergency at the border that outraged even Republican allies. In a bipartisan vote, Congress voted to block Trump’s emergency declaration, the first time in our nation’s history that a majority in both houses of Congress rebuked a president’s emergency declaration.
Keep in mind that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of Trump’s impeachable offenses. Others have done a far better job of that; this piece does not attempt to replicate their efforts.
You will notice, though, that Robert Mueller and Russia have yet to even be mentioned. That’s because while the Mueller Report’s conclusion that the president likely obstructed justice multiple times is cause for impeachment in itself, those abuses of power are just the tip of the iceberg.
The matter of impeachment should not be taken lightly. It should not be used as a political instrument to score points with voters. Likewise, it should not be taken off the table out of a concern that voters may recoil at the specter of impeachment. The Founders intended for it to be used when necessary to safeguard our democratic institutions and freedoms from an aspiring tyrant, which is why it is embedded in the Constitution. Today, it is necessary.
In a properly functioning system of checks and balances – where Congress acts as an independent, co-equal branch of government that vigorously defends its prerogatives, conducts robust oversight, and holds the executive branch accountable for abuses of power, as our Founders intended – Trump would have been removed from office a long time ago. And with all of the evidence that we have today, there is no question that Congress should pursue impeachment.
However, our system of government is not functioning as it should, and Trump will not likely be removed from office – at least not via impeachment – due to his party’s insistence on insulating a corrupt, unabashedly racist, and morally unfit president. Ultimately, it will be up to voters to decide whether there will be a price to pay both for Trump’s egregious abuses of power and the Republican Party’s refusal to hold him accountable. November 2020 cannot come soon enough.