Tag: Impeachment

Could President-elect Trump’s Business Dealings Violate the Constitution?

At the New York Times, Adam Liptak has a story on whether President-elect Trump’s business dealings–in particular the possibility that he may use his presidential power to secure business advantages–would violate the obscure Emoluments Clause of Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution. Since the clause has never been directly addressed by the Supreme Court, we’ll have to do some guesswork.

The short answer: very possibly, but it will depend upon the facts of the situation.

The longer answer: whether or not Trump’s dealings violate the text and original public meaning of the Emoluments Clause, it should be highly concerning to everyone that the President-elect seems committed to still being closely involved in his businesses. Unless he wants a pall of suspicion hanging over his every move and every phone call to a foreign official, the President-elect should immediately place his businesses in a blind trust in order to maintain at least the semblance of propriety.

In the text, the Emoluments Clause prohibits any Person holding “any Office of Profit or Trust” under the Constitution from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Immediately, it is clear that the text limits the clause to gifts from foreign governments and the officials.

The original public meaning of the clause also confirms this interpretation. Foreign kings and princes once gave lavish presents to American officials, for example, a diamond-studded snuff box given to Benjamin Franklin (then ambassador to France) by Louis XVI. The Framers were concerned that these gifts would corrupt our officials, and so they prohibited them.

The next relevant consideration is whether, if Trump’s businesses receive a “gift” from a foreign government, Trump himself may be violating the Emoluments Clause. There is certainly an argument for this, since he benefits from the gift, even if only by increasing the value of his brand and stock holdings.

Was Hillary Clinton Fired from the Nixon Impeachment Inquiry?

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler gives a maximum Four Pinocchios to the claim that Hillary Clinton was fired during the Watergate inquiry, which has gotten a lot of circulation on social media. He makes a detailed case that there is no evidence for such a firing. However, along the way he does note some unflattering aspects of her tenure there:

In neither of his books does Zeifman say he fired Clinton. But in 2008, a reporter named Dan Calabrese wrote an article that claimed that “when the investigation was over, Zeifman fired Hillary from the committee staff and refused to give her a letter of recommendation.” The article quoted Zeifman as saying: “She was a liar. She was an unethical, dishonest lawyer. She conspired to violate the Constitution, the rules of the House, the rules of the committee and the rules of confidentiality.”…

In 1999, nine years before the Calabrese interview, Zeifman told the Scripps-Howard news agency: “If I had the power to fire her, I would have fired her.” In a 2008 interview on “The Neal Boortz Show,” Zeifman was asked directly whether he fired her. His answer: “Well, let me put it this way. I terminated her, along with some other staff members who were — we no longer needed, and advised her that I would not — could not recommend her for any further positions.”

So it’s pretty clear that Jerry Zeifman, chief counsel of the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate inquiry, had a low opinion of the young Yale Law graduate Hillary Rodham. But because she reported to the chief counsel of the impeachment inquiry, who was hired separately by the committee and did not report to Zeifman, Zeifman had no authority over her. He simply didn’t hire her for the permanent committee staff after the impeachment inquiry ended.

Kessler also notes that Clinton failed the D.C. bar exam in that period. She never retook the exam (passing the Arkansas exam instead) and concealed her failure even from her closest friends until her autobiography in 2003.

And then there’s this:

Zeifman’s specific beef with Clinton is rather obscure. It mostly concerns his dislike of a brief that she wrote under Doar’s direction to advance a position advocated by Rodino — which would have denied Nixon the right to counsel as the committee investigated whether to recommend impeachment. 

That brief may get some attention during the next few years, should any members of the Clinton administration become the subject of an impeachment inquiry. Also in Sunday’s Post, George Will cites James Madison’s view that the power to impeach is “indispensable” to control of executive abuse of power. 

It Couldn’t Happen Here?

Dilma Rousseff was never as popular as the president who anointed her as his successor. Despite her intelligence and diligence in numerous official posts, she lacked his warm personality and flair for campaigning. But she ran a very professional presidential campaign, with lots of celebrity supporters, and the vigorous support of her predecessor, and she won the election and became Brazil’s first female president. In office she pursued policies of easy money, subsidized energy, and infrastructure construction, which initially boosted her popularity. As is so often the case, though, those populist programs eventually brought inflation and a slide into economic contraction. Simultaneously, allegations of corruption and cronyism hurt her reputation. Impeachment proceedings were brought against her, focused on her mismanagement of the federal budget, particularly employing budgetary tricks to conceal yawning deficits. “Experts say Ms. Rousseff’s administration effectively borrowed some $11 billion from state banks, an amount equal to almost 1 percent of the economy, to fund popular social programs that have been a hallmark of the Workers Party’s 13 years in power.” Some said that such fiscal mismanagement and dishonesty were common in presidential administrations and should not result in impeachment. But the Senate convicted her and removed her from office, making her bland vice president the new president.

Thank goodness nothing like that could happen in our own country.

The “I-Word” Isn’t a Curse

I’m not convinced that any of the recent scandals roiling the Obama administration constitutes an “impeachable moment,” but, as I argue today in the Washington Examiner, there’s something wrong with a (post-?) constitutional culture where opinion leaders treat the very invocation of the “I-word” as akin to screaming obscenities in a church.

Impeachment talk is “industrial strength insane” says the Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky; “serial madness,” per Richard Brodsky at the Huffington Post; Rachel Maddow compares it to incontinence; and for the Atlantic’s Philip Bump, it’s like the inevitable idiot in the comments thread invoking Hitler. True, Salon’s recent listicle of 14 “crazy times” right-wingers have called for Obama’s impeachment consists mostly of frivolous, even loopy proposals; but it also includes Bruce Fein’s 2011 call to impeach Obama “over the military intervention in Libya, alleging that it violated the Constitution’s mandate that only Congress can declare war.” Crazy talk!

Also in the Atlantic, “communitarian” godfather Amitai Etzioni moans “I see no way to protect the president and all of us from the second term curse” in a piece titled, “Why It Should Be Harder to Impeach a President.“ 

Harder”? A “reality-based” communitarian Etzioni ain’t. In our 224-year constitutional history, we’ve only managed the feat twice—three times if you count Nixon, who resigned before the full House got to vote. How much harder can it get?

And when did calling for—even musing about—a president’s impeachment become a form of secular blasphemy—the American version of Lèse-majesté

Given what the mid-’70s Church Committee hearings revealed about presidential abuses of power, at a minimum, all three presidents of the ’60s deserved to be impeached and removed from office. Of the seven presidents since Nixon, I can make a case for impeaching at least four.

As Ben Franklin put it at the Philadelphia Convention, the impeachment power is “the best way… to provide in the Constitution for the regular punishment of the Executive when his misconduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused.”

Our problem isn’t too many impeachments, but too few.