When Special Counsel Robert Mueller declined to recommend an indictment of President Trump earlier this year, an important factor was the long-standing view that presidents are immune from criminal prosecution while in office. So how come a federal judge in New York rejected the President’s efforts to block a criminal probe of his hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal?
There clearly are good reasons for members of Congress to contemplate impeachment of President Trump. He tried to secure assistance from Ukrainian President Zelensky to promote his reelection campaign, he has used his office to promote his personal financial interests, and he has tried to obstruct justice. Whether he has abused his position to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors can be determined through further investigation and proceedings.
But some members of Congress, as well as some political observers, have invoked arguments that go too far. As the House moves forward with its impeachment inquiry, it is important that it does so on solid ground—otherwise, it risks making the process look like it’s more about partisan disagreements than about high crimes and misdemeanors. Here are some misguided arguments that have been made.
The recent revelation about President Trump’s dealings with Ukrainian President Zelensky have rightly provoked serious concern, especially the possibility that Trump blocked nearly $400 million in military aid to secure help for his re-election campaign .
This has intensified support for impeachment. But taking action against President Trump would only be a partial solution to the problem.
These reversals provoke considerable concern about the implications for climate change. They also reflect a serious defect in our winner-take-all system of government. When one party seizes control of the executive power, it can drive policies in one direction. And when the other party regains power, it can reverse course and take policy in the other direction. This high volatility in policy serves the country and the world poorly.
While the Constitution’s system of checks and balances often breaks down, giving the White House too much power (see here and here), recent action by California reflects the important role that the states play in containing presidential action.
It seems that President Trump has a unique ability to push people apart—launching trade wars, disrupting international agreements, or attacking immigrants and political opponents. He’s split family and other personal relationships. But even with a new person in the Oval Office, we’ll still be highly polarized. It’s not so much the president who is polarizing, it’s the presidency.
While Democratic members of Congress are still debating whether to begin the impeachment process, people watching the questioning of former special counsel Robert Mueller yesterday could easily have thought they were viewing an impeachment proceeding.
According to the New York Times, it is unlikely that federal prosecutors will bring any other charges related to the “hush money” paid by President Trump to conceal his affairs with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.
That’s the right call. Indeed, as I’ve written before, prosecutors never should have filed charges against Trump lawyer Michael Cohen over the payments.
In siding with President Trump in a lawsuit over his financial conflicts of interest, a federal court of appeals invoked a controversial legal principle that undermines the judiciary’s checking and balancing role. According to the court, Maryland and the District of Columbia lacked “standing” to sue the President. The court therefore dismissed the suit, without deciding whether the President was breaking the law. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has invoked the standing doctrine many times to block the public from holding Presidents and other government officials accountable for their actions.