Trump Impeachment: A Week in Review

Minneapolis 3/12/18 Edition –  News of the past week featured the roll out of President Trump’s new “trade war” initiative – planned tariffs for steel and aluminum – with exemptions for Mexico, Canada and Australia.  The new initiative apparently prompted top Trump economic advisor and free trade advocate Gary Cohen’s resignation.  The Trump White House also announced Trump has accepted an invitation to meet with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, prompting widespread favorable comments, including from long-time Trump foes.  Negotiations over logistics and mechanics for that meeting are reported to be underway, but difficulties, including adequate security, may be insurmountable.  Trump is reported to be seeking an agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller: Trump’s testimony in return for a date certain end to investigating Trump personally; experts caution that Mueller is unlikely to agree to that.  Sam Nunberg, the first full time employee of the Trump presidential campaign, first balked at a subpoena from Mueller to testify to a Grand Jury, but then agreed to do so, and testified for over six hours.  Trump is reported to be in discussions to engage the services of Emmet T. Flood, a Washington lawyer who worked for President Clinton during the Lewinski impeachment.  Porn actress Stephanie Clifford, AKA “Stormy Daniels” has offered to return $130,000 received just before the 2016 election from President Trump’s attorney, if a Non-Compete Agreement is declared null and void – she is also suing to have the Agreement declared null and void.  Resolution of this issue could delay the CBS 60 Minutes broadcast of Anderson Cooper’s interview of Ms. Clifford.  Trump advisor Kellyann Conway was found guilty of two Hatch Act violations – she improperly discussed a partisan political campaign in an official capacity.  However, President Trump has the ultimate authority to determine what punishment, if any, she receives.

The Mueller Investigation  

The Wall Street Journal reports: "President Donald Trump’s lawyers are seeking to negotiate a deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller that uses an interview with the president as leverage to spur a conclusion to the Russia investigation, according to a person familiar with the discussions."   However, some experts believe the Mueller team is unlikely to enter into any such agreement; if significant information were to emerge shortly before the deadline, it could not be given full and due consideration.  There is uncertainty over what amount of leverage President Trump may have, short of exercising his Fifth Amendment rights.  While claims of Executive Privilege could be made, that term is not found anywhere in the Constitution.

"The NY Times is reporting President Trump is in discussions with a veteran Washington lawyer Emmet T. Flood, who represented President Clinton during the Lewinsky impeachment.  Trump is reportedly considering adding Flood to the legal team.   The discussion appears to indicate the Trump White House does not believe the Mueller investigation will be ending soon -- contrary to past suggestions reportedly made to Trump by his lawyer Ty Cobb.   Subsequently, the NY Times reported: ""In a pair of tweets, Mr. Trump wrote that The Times 'purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out.'”  The NY Times issued a statement saying they stand by their reporting.

Former Trump campaign advisor Sam Nunberg thinks the Mueller team has "something about [Trump's] business" -- one of his disclosures in a volley of interviews including NY1CNN and MSNBC (two stories, here's the second), collectively characterized as a “meltdown” -- following his announcement he would not obey a subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a Grand Jury.  Nunberg thinks Carter Page colluded with the Russians.  Nunberg said he feels the Mueller investigators are very biased against Roger Stone, who he views as a mentor and father figure.  Subsequently, Nunberg reportedly did testify to the Grand Jury for six hours.

2018 Election -- Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on ABC's Powerhouse Roundtable "the tone and tenor of Democrats in the House tells you that if in fact they were to take control of the House, then that would certainly be their top priority."

Book Beat -- In a NY Times double book review, Andrew Sullivan offers up this "Conventional Wisdom" litany of limitations on the impeachment powers of Congress:  "But if [Trump] was to start acting like an idiot, he could not be impeached. If he was psychologically disturbed but not mentally incapacitated, ditto. If he pursued ruinous policies, or faced enormous unpopularity, or said unspeakably reckless things, he could not be impeached. If he committed a whole slew of crimes in his personal capacity, he’d be answerable to public opinion and regular justice, but not subject to losing his job. If his judgment was unstable, his personal behavior appalling or if he were to make the United States a laughingstock in the opinion of mankind, the impeachment provision did not apply."  The common thread of the litany, presented in the first of two books (one written, one edited) from Cass R. Sunstein, who claims in IMPEACHMENT A Citizen’s Guide, is that these cases don't rise to the "high crimes and misdemeanors" category specified in Article II.   This leads to a review of the second book, edited by Sunstein Can it Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America, and to author Sunstein's gloomy, implied conclusion: for all practical purposes it’s already happened.  Sullivan characterizes impeachment thusly near the beginning of his review: "The founders included the provision, from the very start, as the weakest, 'break the glass in case of emergency' mechanism for reining in an out-of-control executive."   An interesting analogy -- the editor of this Feature can’t resist noting that he has written his own book, titled: BREAK GLASS IMPEACH TRUMP" -- fundamentally challenging the “Conventional Wisdom” account of impeachment presented by Mr. Sunstein, and claiming Congress can in fact simply fire President Trump via Articles of Impeachment for the entire litany list presented by the reviewer, Mr. Sullivan.

Tom Steyer’s ongoing “Need To Impeach” campaign – reports California hedge fund billionaire, major Democratic campaign contributor, and impeachment advocate Tom Steyer is launching a new phase of his "Need To Impeach" campaign, with the first town hall to be held Thursday, March 15th in Columbus, followed by one Friday in Cincinnati.  Steyer is committed to spending $30 million on this project, and has ruled out his own candidacy for 2018, but not for 2020.

Hatch Act violations -- Variety reports the U.S. Office of Special Counsel has found Kellyann Conway, a Trump advisor, guilty of two violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits officials from engaging in partisan political activity while in their official capacity.  Conway is in an employment category with a rule that assigns the President the authority to decide what disciplinary action, if any, should be taken.

Trump affairs and coverups – CBS News reports through her lawyer, porn star Stephanie Clifford, AKA "Stormy Daniels" has offered to return $130,000 received from President Trump's attorney shortly before the 2016 election, in return for declaring a disputed Non-Disclosure Agreement ("NDA") null and void.  The offer expires at noon on Tuesday, 3/13.  Clifford's attorney has also filed a lawsuit seeking to have the NDA declared null and void because President Trump never signed it.  One element of the dispute is whether and when Anderson Cooper's interview of Clifford will be broadcast on 60 Minutes.  Trump's legal team is trying to prevent the broadcast, but legal precedents on prior restraint strongly suggest any claimed harms or consequences can only be addressed after the interview is broadcast.

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