By accepting the oath of office without resolving or coming clean with the American people regarding his vast and secretive web of conflicts and other offenses, President Donald Trump has kicked off the countdown to his own impeachment.
At 12:01pm today, Donald J. Trump became the 45th president of the United States.
And at the second he assumed the presidency, President Trump was in violation of the Constitution he pledged an oath to uphold.
Ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has already filed complaints against Trump relating to legal violations arising out of certain of his business entanglements. Jordan Libowitz, CREW’s communications director, told the New York Daily News, “[i]n terms of conflicts and potential issues, we have never seen an incoming administration with them on this level.”
CREW issued the following statement today:
Now that he has taken the oath of office, President Trump stands in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. He just swore on the Bible to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,’ but by continuing to accept payments from foreign governments, he has already failed. We do not yet know just to what extent this violation goes—because he is the first person elected to the presidency in decades to fail to clear the ethical bar of Richard Nixon and release his tax returns, much of his foreign business has remained secret. But we do know that there must be accountability for anyone, including the president, for violating the Constitution.
Prior to inauguration, it was “widely acknowledged” that the new president would be worthy of impeachment on day one. Several news organizations detailed, in great length, the depth and breadth of Trump’s offenses, including Shareblue’s Matthew Chapman, who reported in November that “Trump is already poised to commit an impeachable offense on day one,” because his expansive network of international business dealings, holdings, investments and contracts with foreign governments may constitute violations of Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, the so-called Emoluments Clause.
And now that day one of the Trump administration has arrived, the case for impeachment has only grown, not subsided.
The Emoluments Clause, which essentially prevents the president from accepting compensation, gifts, or bribes from foreign officials or governments, has been discussed and dissected at length by the nation’s legal scholars since election night. The consensus of an overwhelming number of scholars and investigative news sources is that Trump is in violation of this constitutional mandate.
Described as an “ethics train wreck,” Trump has crashed his messy web of undisclosed dealings and conflicts of interest into the constitutional firewall the founders built into the Constitution, to ensure that “private entanglements with foreign states would not blur the loyalties of federal officials, above all the president.”
Trump could have avoided some of these issues if he had created a legitimate blind trust or divested from his holdings. As I previously reported, the “half-blind” trust run by his children is a virtual sham that does nothing to address his wellspring of conflicts of interest and opportunities for self-dealing while serving as president.
The president’s failure to divest his holdings, combined with his refusal to release his tax returns or otherwise come clean to the American people about the nature of his holdings and conflicts, exacerbates the suspicions of wrongdoing. And just yesterday, the day before his swearing-in, his spokesman not only evaded discussion of his conflicts of interest, shutting down pointed questions from journalist Katy Tur, but he went on to use the public podium to promote the new president’s D.C. hotel on national television.
And it does not end there, as violations of the foreign Emoluments Clause are not the only potential impeachable offenses facing the new president.
There is also a domestic Emoluments Clause, which prevents the president from receiving any emolument from the United States on top of his salary. And there are specific lawsuits and complaints filed against the new president that could pose serious issues.
Today, before the swearing-in ceremonies had reached their completion, CREW filed a complaint against Trump with the General Services Administration (GSA), alleging that he is in violation of his lease agreement on the Old Post Office building in D.C. This is the site of the Trump International Hotel which courted controversy regarding the hotel’s use by foreign dignitaries to curry favor with the then president-elect, or the imposition of pressure on parties to use the hotel. The president’s controversial D.C. hotel may also violate the law. According to CREW,
The lease bars elected government officials from receiving ‘any share or part of [the Lease], or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.’ Trump owns more than three-quarters of Trump Old Post Office LLC, which holds the lease…The lease bans elected officials from benefitting to avoid conflicts of interest with their duties.
If this lease is in violation of federal law and is not remedied, questions could be raised as to whether it constitutes a “high crime and misdemeanor,” which could subject the president to impeachment. Furthermore, Trump’s foundation is in the midst of a criminal investigation for self-dealing by the president, and there is a separate investigation of a “pay-to-play” scandal involving dismissal of charges against Trump University by the Florida Attorney General.
In addition to being potential offenses in and of themselves, these conflicts, lawsuits, and investigations may set the stage for the president to commit perjury, a clear impeachable offense, if he has not done so already. Interviewing Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean, the New York Daily News reported:
If any of his open suits demand his testimony, though, a few falsities on the record could be enough to end his presidency early. Given Trump’s penchant for playing fast and loose with facts, he might walk right into it. ‘Trump will lie about anything,’ said Dean, who participated in and then helped expose Nixon’s Watergate scandal. ‘Nixon was clearly a liar, but Nixon’s lies tended to be on big issues,’ Dean said. Trump, meanwhile, has lied ‘about the smallest things’ through his lifetime. ‘He’s much worse than Nixon,’ Dean said.
And, as if the prospect of being “worse than Nixon” were not frightening enough, there is the issue of the president’s relationship and business ties with Russia. At best, there is the potential for the same sort of conflicts of interest described above. But there is always the worst case scenario of whether Trump’s potential collusion with Russia against the interests of the United States may give rise to even more serious impeachable offenses.
The ACLU today filed a FOIA request to obtain information about Trump’s conflicts of interest. And Jamie Raskin, the newly-elected Democratic representative of Maryland’s eighth district, has called out the president on the seriousness of his offenses and declared that impeachment will be one of his highest priorities:
‘[The Emoluments Clause] says that no elected official, either member of Congress or the president of the United States, can accept a gift, an emolument or any payment at all from a foreign government,’ Raskin continued. ‘He [Trump] just simply refuses to accept that reality. So if he goes into office and he refuses to divest himself, the moment that the first conflict comes up, that’s going to look like an impeachable offense.’
Trump took the oath of office mere hours ago. But the countdown to impeachment is already underway.