Donald Trump

Another Advantage of Divided Government: Easier to Impeach the President

Republicans may rue the day they won Congress with Trump as president

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If the events of last week demonstrate anything at all, it's the pitfalls of united, one-party government.

If the Democrats controlled Congress, President Trump would be more in danger of impeachment, saving both the Republicans and the republic

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from this destructive presidency. But with Republicans in control, lawmakers from the president's party, with the exception of Michigan's Justin Amash, can barely muster the courage to utter the "I" word aloud. It's all we can do to get a special prosecutor to look into Trump's Russia connections.

The case for Trump's impeachment is overdetermined at this stage. Trump entered the Oval Office in open violation of conflict of interest guidelines and the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution, which requires certain federal office holders to have no assets that would allow them to benefit from dealings with foreign governments. Past presidents have satisfied that requirement by divesting or putting their assets in a truly blind trust. Trump refused to do that. He supposedly relinquished the management of his vast global empire to his sons, but continued to hold an ownership stake in the Trump Organization. This means that every time a foreign government invests in Trump's business, he personally benefits from it (his charade of handing over all profits to the Treasury Department notwithstanding).

Then, within weeks of assuming office, he outrageously accused former President Barack Obama, who he mused should be impeached for "incompetence," of bugging Trump Tower — without a shred of evidence.

Last week, he fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russia's meddling in the election, for refusing to wrap up — as he himself put it — the "Russia thing" and to pursue the leakers in the intelligence community. These leaks revealed, among other things, that erstwhile National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had improper contacts and conversations with the Russian ambassador and then lied about them, forcing his ouster. As if Comey's firing wasn't bad enough, Trump took to Twitter to intimidate Comey, warning him not to leak his side of the story lest Trump release secret tapes of their conversations.

This week, Trump admitted (again, on Twitter) that he revealed intelligence about ISIS plots to the very Russian ambassador at the heart of the Flynn firing. This may not have been technically illegal, since the president has the absolute right to declassify whatever he wants. But this was careless beyond words — not to mention hypocritical after Trump repeatedly questioned Hillary Clinton's right to receive classified briefings because she jeopardized national security given her use of an unsecure email server as secretary of state.

Then came the most incriminating of all revelations: that Trump allegedly tried to shut down the FBI's investigation of Flynn, telling Comey in a private meeting that he "hopes you can let this go." Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has subpoenaed all the memos that Comey kept documenting these conversations with Trump.

Regardless of what the memos reveal, Trump's established pattern of behavior has already shown him to be unfit for office. His violation of the emoluments clause is unethical if not outright illegal. His accusations of wiretapping are unhinged. His firing of Comey over the Russia investigation amounts to obstruction of justice. His threats to leak secret tapes of his conversations with Comey are straight out of The Godfather. His casual leaking of highly classified information to a foreign adversary is reckless.

And all of this in just a few months in office. If Republicans allow Trump to serve his full four-year term, they will end up carrying so much dirty water for him that their party will never escape the stench.

So why are they dragging their feet? Didn't they impeach Bill Clinton on obstruction of justice charges for far less? In the formal case against him, they resorted to rather bizarre and far-fetched theories about how Clinton lying about his personal affair would jeopardize national security by giving a foreign power that came in possession of the Monica Lewinsky tapes ammunition to blackmail him.

Republican recalcitrance has nothing to do with love for Trump. His presidential rivals, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who were personally vilified by Trump during the campaign, no doubt hate his guts. So why are they mum?

Essentially, because they are all caught between the proverbial rock that is Trump's loyal base and the hard place that is their own rapidly waning credibility.

Despite Trump's erratic, even venal, behavior, his approval rating among Republican voters remains a whopping 84 percent. Seventy-five percent are unperturbed by the Comey firing and believe that Trump ousted Comey because he mishandled Hillary Clinton's email investigation.

If Republicans in Congress were to try and oust Trump, they'd trigger a base revolt that would regard the impeachment as a soft coup. Furthermore, Republicans haven't fully controlled the federal government since 2006, and they still dream of using their advantage to get things done.

Democrats might puff their chests in self-righteous indignation at Republicans' moral bankruptcy right now. But face it: They would act identically if they were similarly charged with holding President Hillary Clinton accountable for, say, efforts to obstruct an investigation into her purged e-mails.

It's become conventional wisdom that divided government and gridlock prevents our political classes from accomplishing anything. But Republican helplessness in the face of the obscenity that is the Trump presidency shows that single-party rule doesn't accomplish as much legislative good as it excuses executive abuse. Illegal behavior by the president is only the necessary condition for impeachment. But it is not the sufficient condition because the law in this case has to be enforced not by courts shielded from politics but a Congress that is not. The politics of impeachment are much more tractable when the same party doesn't control all branches of government.

Republicans may well impeach President Trump eventually. But they'll set the bar very high, and they'll need to engage in a painstaking and laborious process to appease their base, none of which would have hamstrung Democrats if they controlled Congress.

This means that Trump will probably have to do much more damage before Republicans can finally wash their hands off him. That's a tragedy for their party and this country. This president may well make them rue the day that they won Congress.

A version of this column appeared in The Week

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31 responses to “Another Advantage of Divided Government: Easier to Impeach the President

  1. Fuck off Shikha.

  2. Wrong about the emoluments clause. All it was meant to do was to keep government officials from getting bribes or pay from foreign countries, not running a business. The best you can get is a weak argument which falls apart on close inspection. George Washington kept his farm and continued running it while President, including getting tools and equipment and advice from Britain.

    It’s ridiculous to say “requires certain federal office holders to have no assets that would allow them to benefit from dealings with foreign governments” in the first place, and to extend that to all business holdings is ridiculous. What does that mean, only monks can hold government office? What was Dick Cheney and Haliburton, chopped liver? How about Hillary’s noble charity? How about Bush I’s oil holdings, and Bush II’s bailout by the Saudis before he become President?

    Once you take the position that any remuneration in office is verboten, you have to ask how Obama got so much money while in office, and why he’s getting $400K per speech. It’s emoluments all the way down and you may as well stop having any federal officials. Fine with me, but be consistent.

    Buncha hogwash!

    1. I was going to write something very similar. Thank you.

    2. If Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause, then basically everyone in government is also guilty. Can you prove that not one single Russian bought Obama’s book? That is literally how expansive this reading of the Emoluments Clause would be, so I don’t think they really want to go down that road.

    3. Yep, Washington even doubled the price of his goods upon taking office and governed from his private club just like Trump.

      1. Trump can govern from anywhere he damn pleases.

        The claim that he’s “doubled the price of his goods upon taking office” is based on what, exactly?

  3. Really? Let’s see-the GOP lost the house/senate in 2006 and Obama was elected two years later. Divided gov’t did not last long then and there’s no reason to think it would in this case either, if a dem is elected in 2020 which could very well happen. We will then be faced with a prog freak show.

  4. “…saving both the Republicans and the Republic from this destructive presidency.”
    You have zero idea what you are talking about Shikha. Trump’s Presidential term so far has been better than Obama, W. Bush, Clinton, and H.W. Bush’s full terms as Presidents.

  5. Where, exactly, is the libertarian thought or theory in this article?

    1. You must have mistaken Reason for a libertarian publication.

  6. She called him “unhinged” I’m not sure she’s hinged enough to know what that means

  7. I despise Trump. Still,

    >> If Republicans in Congress were to try and oust Trump, they’d trigger a base revolt that
    >> would regard the impeachment as a soft coup.

    Yeah, _I_ would regard the impeachment as a soft coup as well. And for good reason — that’s how the proponents are marketing it.

    We’re at a crisis here. We can let democracy work, ride out these four years, and hope things get better. They didn’t get horrible overnight, and it will take decades to recover, if recovery is what we want.

    The other option is soft coup — via impeachment or Amendment 25 or similar. That’s destroying the village in order to save it. That’s btfsttg.

  8. This article again?

  9. I know that Dalmia always has the best interests of the GOP at heart, as surely as I know her assertion that ” the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution… …requires certain federal office holders to have no assets that would allow them to benefit from dealings with foreign governments” is wholly and totally true.

    1. She’s like Reason’s little own slice of Vox without having to leave the site!

  10. This writer doesn’t have a clue about the real world. Does she think Trump is so terrible compared to ?. say ?. what’s her name? Oh! Yeah, now I remember ?. the criminal: Hillary Clinton?

    “Then, within weeks of assuming office, he outrageously accused former President Barack Obama, who he mused should be impeached for “incompetence,” of bugging Trump Tower ? without a shred of evidence.”

    He DID have a shred of evidence ?. as Susan Rice later confirmed, saying that she (Susan Rice) had unmasked Trump associates in NSA taped conversations with the Russians, some of whom were likely in the aforementioned Trump Tower.

    Trump is certainly a mixed bag, and in many ways an unlikeable and wrongheaded politician. HOWEVER, he’s no worse than Hillary Clinton.

  11. ” It’s all we can do to get a special prosecutor to look into Trump’s Russia connections.”

    Actually, if you follow the link, the special prosecutor was “appointed… to oversee the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.” Nothing there about Trump, except in Shikha Dalmia’s fevered imagination, unless evidence turns up that hasn’t yet.

  12. “…the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution… requires certain federal office holders to have no assets that would allow them to benefit from dealings with foreign governments.”

    You mean like George Washington’s plantation? I’m pretty sure he kept selling stuff to Britain, and it never occurred to anyone to suggest that he put it in a blind trust. Yeah, the Brits could have paid him ten times what his tobacco was worth, but no emolument was assumed unless someone showed that one had actually been paid. Then you could have impeached him. Sort of like you can impeach Trump, if you can actually demonstrate “collusion”, should anyone actually figure out what that might mean.

  13. “Then, within weeks of assuming office, he outrageously accused former President Barack Obama, who he mused should be impeached for “incompetence,” of bugging Trump Tower ? without a shred of evidence.”

    Um… wasn’t there a Trump computer in Trump Tower with a direct connection to a Russian bank that turned out not to have been used in any nefarious way? This was determined without “bugging” its traffic? Not saying this was what Trump was talking about, but he seems to have stumbled on a truth.

  14. “These leaks revealed, among other things, that erstwhile National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had improper contacts and conversations with the Russian ambassador and then lied about them, forcing his ouster.”

    What was “improper” about Flynn’s “contacts and conversations with the Russian ambassador”? Be specific.

  15. “Trump took to Twitter to intimidate Comey, warning him not to leak his side of the story lest Trump release secret tapes of their conversations.”

    Shikha Dalmia, your Trump Derangement Syndrome doesn’t seem tp allow you to get anything right. Actually, Trump was clearly claiming that Comey had already lied about their conversation, and said that Comey had better hope there were no tapes. Not remotely the same thing.

  16. “…lawmakers from the president’s party, with the exception of Michigan’s Justin Amash, can barely muster the courage to utter the “I” word aloud.”

    Speaking of not getting things right, you’re here just following your link that claimed, “Amash is the first Republican to use the “I” word.” But The Week was merely being as shoddy as you in saying so. If you had been smart enough to look at the original story http://thehill.com/homenews/ho…..-for-trump rather an some Fake News idiot playing telephone you might have noticed that Amash said only “yes” (which was pretty stupid given that Trump’s “hope” came nowhere near an order even if he said it) but DIDN’T actually utter the “I” word. Damn, you get lot of things wrong.

  17. “Trump admitted…, that he revealed intelligence about ISIS plots to the… Russian ambassador… This may not have been technically illegal, since the president has the absolute right to declassify whatever he wants. But this was careless beyond words ? not to mention hypocritical after Trump repeatedly questioned Hillary Clinton’s right to receive classified briefings because she jeopardized national security given her use of an unsecure email server as secretary of state.”

    Lessee… By “not… technically illegal”, you mean “clearly legal”, right? And you’re asserting it was “careless” rather than deliberate on what basis? The hypocrisy of deliberately revealing intelligence to a Russian ambassador AND saying Clinton carelessly exposed all her email traffic to hackers, never mind let it be forwarded to Weiner’s laptop, eludes me.

  18. “His firing of Comey over the Russia investigation amounts to obstruction of justice.”

    His firing of Comey over what he considers the latter’s mishandling and misrepresentation of the Russia investigation is entirely within Trump’s prerogatives as President. Absent any showing that Trump ACTUALLY “colluded” (whatever that might mean) with the Russians there is no basis for asserting that he had any corrupt motive. Getting a “nut job” out of the position and replacing him with someone competent is just part of Trump’s job.

  19. “So why are they dragging their feet? Didn’t they impeach Bill Clinton on obstruction of justice charges for far less?”

    Clinton lied under oath. That’s illegal. Nothing Trump has done seems to be illegal. You can’t tell the difference?

  20. “Illegal behavior by the president is only the necessary condition for impeachment.”

    You can’t seem to get anything right. Illegal behavior by the president is NOT a necessary condition for impeachment. “High crimes and misdemeanors” doesn’t mean what an ignoramus like you might think it means. Educate yourself before inserting your foot in your mouth again.

  21. Apparently Shikha Dalmia was totally uninterested in factual accuracy even before TDS set in. See, e.g., “Shikha Dalmia and Troubling Questions” at: NRO, 2015. Ramesh Ponnuru isn’t my favorite guy, but he has her dead to rights. http://www.nationalreview.com/…..sh-ponnuru

  22. If the statement “Trump will probably have to do much more damage” is true, it is because of the precedent set by, most recently and arguably, our last president. Remember, this was President Barack “I’ve got a phone and a pen” Obama. The hubris evidenced by this one remark is more than sufficient to make the point that Obama was quite keen to expand the powers of imperium not explicitly granted to the Office of the President. This is also a president who ordered the deaths of two Americans in Yemen, one under-age, without the benefit of trial. So, is conspiracy to commit murder considered a ‘high crime’ or a ‘misdemeanor?’
    Now that we appear to have a President of mediocre intellect, marginal eloquence and minimal control of his temper, it seems to be a matter of alarm in some quarters that these previously and recently broadened presidential powers are no longer under the omnibenevolent purview of the Democratic party. The hypocrisy is, to paraphrase Patton Oswalt, “So thick and rich you could drizzle it on pancakes.”
    Unless one can find a money trail or a photograph of Putin acting as bag-man, Trump’s supposed violation of the Emoluments clause is specious at best.
    No one’s saying anyone should quit digging, but for goodness sake, don’t go off half-cocked.

  23. I’m not so sure I agree that the Republicans will go all-out on keeping Trump in. There is a point at which Congressmen have to make a decision to go with the Devil that brought ’em or not. For now, the independent investigation puts the matter into a holding pattern – provided Trump doesn’t descend to even lower depths of depravity – but once the head of that investigation makes his report (perhaps a quick “rough draft” before the official report), it will be very hard for the 20 or so Republicans who could vote with the Democrats to vote against impeachment; the anti-Trumpist faction will be out for blood in 2018. As for the Senate, these non-gerrymandered districts held by Republicans would not have as much too lose in decapitating Trump.

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