5 Reasons Trump Could Be Impeached (and Why We're Not There Yet)

May 10th 2017

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has released a video claiming that — by his count — there are already  "four grounds to impeach Donald Trump," with another possibly on the way.

To Reich, the impeachable offenses so far include: 

  1. Trump violating his Oath of Office by not faithfully executing the laws of the United States, specifically by accusing former President Obama, without proof, of wiretapping him. 
  2. Trump routinely violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by accepting money from foreign governments, particularly by steering diplomatic delegations to Trump properties. 
  3. Trump twice attempting to ban people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., violating their First Amendment right to practice whatever religion they choose.
  4. Trump labeling the press an "enemy of the people."

Reich offers up a possible fifth reason to impeach Trump: mounting evidence that he or his campaign might have committed treason by colluding with Russia to win the 2016 election. 

As ATTN: wrote in February, "impeachment is a complicated and lengthy process, hindered by unclear language and lack of precedent." While the drafters of the U.S. constitution included impeachment and removal of a president in Article II, Section 4, it can only be done for "conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Shirley Anne Warshaw, a political science professor at Gettysburg College, told ATTN: that the language of impeachment was left deliberately vague, and is up to political bodies to define. 

"The concept of high crimes and misdemeanors, which is the key phrase, was built on British law and aimed at the monarch," Warshaw said. "It was written so the monarch couldn't take the country into private wars that the king decided he wants to do."

According to Warshaw, impeachable offenses are crimes against the state. "Has the president done something that would violate the framework of statehood?" she asked. In practice, however, it's up to members of Congress to define what that means. "It's completely political," Warshaw said. 

While it only takes a simple majority in the House to approve articles of impeachment, Republicans have thus far shown almost no interest in abandoning President Trump.

So are Reich's grounds for impeachment actual reasons that the House could use? Warshaw isn't so sure.

She said that much of what Trump has tweeted itself falls under the protections of the First Amendment, and that when Trump's travel bans have been struck down, it's simply a case of the courts ruling against policy. In that regard, "the system has worked well," she said.

Reich's fifth possible ground comes into play with the firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday.

The day after the firing, Vox wrote that the dismissal "escalates the administration’s Russia scandal, and, for the first time, provides indications of impeachable offenses." 

At the same time, CNN declared that by firing Comey, Trump "may well have set in motion a series of events that could lead to more controversy and potentially even his impeachment less than a year after being sworn into office."

And right-wing columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote in The Washington Post that, if it's found Trump indeed fired Comey to hobble the FBI's investigation, then Trump would "no longer [be] acting to enforce and execute the laws of the United States" and "must go." 

But again, Warshaw doesn't think it will motivate a Republican-led Congress to act. "The president has a right to fire the FBI director," she note, even if the reason is deeply suspect. 

No matter what, impeachment is extremely unlikely unless Democrats are able to take the House back in 2018. On this point, both Reich and Warshaw agree.

"The best constitutional answer is the ballot box," she said. "Create a divided government in 2018, and then talk impeachment."

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