It is a sad but unsurprising comment on the Trump Presidency that in April this year (2017), less than three months into his term of office, an American professor of history, Allen J Lichtman, should think it worthwhile publishing a work entitled “The Case for Impeachment”. The book considers Trump’s behaviour generally and specifically in his first few weeks in office to present the “… foundation for building a case for his impeachment”.
He makes the point that impeachment proceedings are not confined to the actions of a President in office. Politically unlikely, but constitutionally possible is the impeachment of Trump for actions which were committed before he became President. More likely such actions may be considered as evidence of his character and propensity to behave in particular ways as part of an impeachment hearing for things related to his campaign for the Presidency and his time in office.
Professor Lichtman summarises a whole series of areas which he believes provide grounds for action to impeach Trump. A key one is his attitude to the law. He summarises the various laws that Trump has broken over the years: racial discrimination in housing; illegal use of charitable funds; failure to pay taxes; sexual discrimination against female employees in his casinos; establishing a fraudulent “University” (one which offered no course credits, conferred no degrees, did not grade students and did not submit to outside review); and, perhaps most ironically, the exploitation of undocumented immigrants in the construction of Trump Tower in 1980.
Whilst impeachment may not be instituted because of any of the above transgressions they provide evidence of his attitude towards the law. Details of the above cases betray an attitude which sees it as a tool to gag and intimidate people who oppose him but to be ignored or subverted where it stands in the way of what he wants to do. His modus operandi is to spend his way out of trouble by, for instance, paying $25m to settle the case relating to his bogus university whilst at the same time claiming this as a victory. He has certainly had plenty of practice finessing the law it being reported he has been plaintiff in 1,900 legal actions, defendant in 1,450, and involved in bankruptcy or third-party suits 150 times.
The book catalogues the various and multiple conflicts of interest created by Trump’s ongoing business interests around the world and makes the point that the high level of debt many of his companies rely upon creates real leverage for the holders of that debt if something goes wrong and his businesses cannot repay their loans. The only way to avoid these conflicts and risks would be by selling all his assets, liquidating his debt and putting the proceeds into a blind Trust operated by a third part not reporting to the President. He has refused to do this rather handing over control of his business empire to his two sons!
Trumps propensity to see the truth as whatever serves his purpose is considered. The independent fact-checker PolitiFact reviewed all the presidential candidates at the end of the nomination process and found Trump had more “Pants on Fire” ratings than all twenty-one other candidates… combined! The point is made that lying under oath about his relationship with Ms Lewinsky was a key driver of the impeachment of Bill Clinton. A series of outstanding lawsuits against Trump could result in his having to testify under oath and create a similar risk for him if he failed to tell the truth.
Of course the big issue is the Russia connection and the book provides a summary of the nature of the pro-Trump Russian intervention in the election and the many links Trump has to Russia, and oligarchs close to Putin. It charts the pro-Russia interventions made by the Trump administration and the links going back to the 2013 Miss Universe pageant which Trump took to Moscow. It also mentions the fact that, at the time, Trump had tweeted “Trump Tower Moscow is next.” Since the book was published in April evidence has emerged that Trump Tower Moscow was more than a vague dream. It appears, despite statements to the contrary, that Trump Tower Moscow is a live project. Indeed in 2016 Mr Trump signed a letter of intent about the project.
Given what we know about the actions of Trump since the election the question arises, why has he not been impeached already. The cold reality according to Prof. Lichtman is that the Republican Party has a programme of change they want to see through. It involves, tax reform, de-regulation, eviscerating climate change laws, repeal of the affordable care act, shifting investment towards the military away from social programmes, and generally reducing the role of the state. Whilst it is judged Trump is capable of delivering on this the Republicans will not move against him and their control of the House and Senate means therefore impeachment would not succeed.
Given Trump’s spectacular failure to deliver pretty much anything since he came into office the GOP may well be starting to think about plan B. If they were to impeach Trump then, theoretically, Mike Pence, as Vice President, should take over which may have looked an attractive option at some point. However, this may not be so appealing if there is a risk that the investigations of special counsel Bob Mueller finds that Mr Pence has, in some way, colluded in the Russia connection or, even worse, the cover up of the same.
It is difficult to see how President Trump can survive to the end of his first term. His propensity to dig when he is in a hole is spectacular. Whilst it is a comment on the times a book could be published 4 months into his Presidency making the case for impeachment it is even more instructive that 6 months later the book looks significantly out of date as to the weight of evidence mounting and pressure building on this presidency.
There is a sense President Trump has created a new standard for shock. He has set the bar much higher for outrage. However, in the background the prosaic investigations of the Mueller inquiry grind on. The President may find at some point the civilised standards of ordinary people reassert themselves and that no one is above the rule of law. If he does not – God help America.
The Case For Impeachment. A J Lichtman. Harper Colllins 2017