Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A ramble about Impeachment, Conflicts of Interest, and some other things

By Tryanmax

Trump getting impeached is pretty much a foregone conclusion if the Democrats get a simple House majority at any point in his presidency. That in itself illustrates just how meaningless the notion is, politically speaking. Obviously, Trump hasn’t done anything impeachable yet, not having taken office, so the Democrats have basically announced that they're planning a fishing expedition. I don’t think it will work out like they expect.

First, let me remind you that impeachment doesn’t automatically remove a president from office. Neither of the two presidents who were impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were removed from office, and Nixon resigned before he could be impeached. Democrats seem to forget this, so right away you know there will be disappointment when they rediscover that impeachment is merely Step 1.

But let’s talk about how an impeachment might occur. As far back as April, there was speculation that Trump could be impeached on day one of his presidency if Trump University were ruled to be fraudulent. Obviously, that has been diffused, so now Democrats look like they have their eyes set on conflicts of interest. I say “eyes set” but, if the pundit chatter is accurate, there isn’t much to set eyes on. There appears to be tremendous gray area around conflicts of interest in regards to POTUS. In other words, Trump's enemies are shuffling through uncharted territory in an attempt to get him. That’s a difficult proposition.

Trump’s position isn’t without risk, either. If conflict of interest rules that apply to lower offices are ultimately applied to the presidency, Trump could face impeachment, expulsion or, if he means to maintain the presidency, some amount of damage to his business and legacy. So why would Trump put himself in such a position? Well, if he succeeds in keeping the presidency AND his business in the manner he desires, it could establish a precedent that might lower a major barrier discouraging successful private citizens from entering public office. For those of us who believe the political sphere could use more business sense, that would be a great service to the nation.

If that is the path he is taking, Trump does have some advantages. He has a Republican House and Senate for at least two years. If nothing else, this keeps impeachment proceedings at bay for that long. If Obamacare can be passed in such a timeframe, surely some legislation clearing up the murkiness surrounding conflicts of interest could be hammered out. Trump has a firewall in the form of Mike Pence, a lockstep Republican who few Democrats would wish to see in the White House. That might extend his impeachment-proofing another couple of years. Also, Trump has the opportunity to nominate to the Supreme Court in his first year, so if he did end up before them, he could have at least one judge who is open to the idea that conflicts of interest laws shouldn’t be interpreted so as to prevent qualified, successful private citizens from entering public service.

Trump didn’t campaign on conflicts of interest issues, so I have no way of knowing if any of this speculation holds merit. I do know that this is a contest Trump didn’t have to enter. That makes it seem like he wants this battle. If you have any different ideas why Trump might pick this fight, let me know.


LL said...

We're still waiting to hear from Trump's lawyers (through Trump as mouthpiece) as to how they plan to structure the Trump Corp. to avoid conflicts to the extent possible. I'd comment now, but it's premature because I have no idea how they'll do it legally.

Anthony said...

Like the Clintons, the Trumps will get away with everything they can (which isn't everything they want to as the example below shows).

Like the Clintons, the other side will protest, but allies will accept the behavior and rally to its defense if legal prosecution looms.

I judge impeachment very unlikely (nobody has used it since Clinton since it worked so poorly there). If the Democrats win Congress they will just set about denying Trump everything they can, maybe forcing a shutdown on a point of principle that excites their side (Planned Parenthood funding is a likely culprit).


The invitation made an extraordinary offer: Donors willing to write a check for $500,000 to $1 million would be granted access to Donald J. Trump the day after he is sworn in as president, along with the opportunity to participate in a multiday hunting or fishing trip with his oldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.
But on Tuesday, the Trump Organization put out a statement distancing the family from the fund-raiser, saying the event had “not been approved or pursued by the Trump family,” even though legal documents show that Eric Trump served on the board of directors of the recently formed charity behind it, the Opening Day Foundation. The event is still scheduled, but references to the hunting trip with Mr. Trump’s sons have been removed.
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The abrupt turnabout was the latest example of the ethical thicket that the president-elect and his family face as he prepares to take the oath of office. It highlights the need for Mr. Trump to clearly define what roles his adult children will play in his administration, according to former senior White House advisers who have served the last six presidents.

tryanmax said...

LL, there seems to be a lot of confusion about what the law actually says on the matter, which is my overarching point. For whatever reason, Trump seems to think this is worth using his personal brand to hash out. I think it goes without saying that Trump is going to plead his case in the court of public opinion.

tryanmax said...

Anthony, nothing is absolute, but Democrats have been floating the idea of impeachment since Trump won the primary. This was a stupid mistake; it primed the idea that Trump would be president. It was also a stupid mistake; regardless who first voiced the idea, the repetition of it has become tantamount to a promise made by the Democrat Party. And it was a stupid mistake; it created an appetite that can't be fed.

On the fundraiser, it took me some digging to find the actual brochure. There are a lot of claims in the NYTimes and other articles that are not fully supported, but may be inferred, from the brochure. For example, the article says,

"The invitation made an extraordinary offer: Donors willing to write a check for $500,000 to $1 million would be granted access to Donald J. Trump..."

while the brochure says donors will receive a "[p]rivate reception and photo opportunity...with VIPs and celebrities associated with the event."

Like I said, it can easily be inferred that Trump will be one of the VIPs. But the idea that this amounts to "access for sale" is a surprising development. My head reels to think of the number of similar fundraisers hosted by prior presidents of both parties that were simply reported on for the outfits the attendees were wearing.

Not that this is unexpected. Trump campaigned on fighting corruption in Washington and the media. Of course the media is going to counterprogram with allegations that Trump himself is corrupt. And he may well be, but how the hell can we know? It's already been established that Trump can't duck out for dinner without the media raising transparency issues.

I will grant you, thought, that the Trump family's counter-claim sounds weak. That inclines me to think that they were legitimately caught off guard and the response is genuine. Truth is less persuasive than you'd think.

Koshcat said...

There was a nice editorial in the WSJ a few weeks ago about President Trump and Trump Enterprises. The gist was there was no possible way to get out of conflict of interest. Staying put is clear and upfront COI. Trying to pull out is problematic because many of the organizations that will need to approve it will also be run by Trump appointees. His recommendation was to leave things alone and keep everything above board as much as possible.

tryanmax said...

Koshcat, that's probably the most sensible thing I've heard on the subject. In fact, it's not too far off from what MotherJones advised, albeit in a way that suggested Trump couldn't possibly. As an example, they offered that Obama did not refinance his Chicago home even as he advised Americans to take advantage of lower interest rates. If anything, that just shows it's impossible for a president to avoid the potential for COI.

Staying put isn't clear COI, at least, not judging by the amount of division among experts on the matter which, if nothing else, means that it isn't at all clear. I was surprised to learn that incoming presidents taking steps to avoid the appearance of COI before taking office only really goes back to Carter.

According to the Library of Congress's Annotated Constitution, there have been no court rulings interpreting the Emoluments Clause. These are truly uncharted waters.

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