Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington today calls on the United States House of Representatives to initiate a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. At a minimum, the inquiry should assess President Trump’s obstruction of the investigation of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election (including the investigation of his own efforts to impede it), his participation in a scheme to defraud enforcement of federal campaign finance laws that continued through the first year of his presidency, and his acceptance of profits, gains, or advantages from foreign and domestic governments in violation of the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution. These three courses of conduct merit scrutiny because Congress could conclude that they were “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” committed in violation of President Trump’s constitutional oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
The Constitution vests Congress with the exclusive power and solemn responsibility of holding a president accountable while he is in office. As Special Counsel Mueller recently explained, Department of Justice policy states that “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.” That process is impeachment. Article I of our Constitution vests the House of Representatives with the power to accuse a president of committing “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” and the Senate with the power to try all impeachments and convict if it deems a president’s removal from office both merited and wise. The term “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” refers to serious abuses of official power (Sunstein at 36-37). As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist 65, impeachment proceedings are reserved for “offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”
To call for a formal impeachment inquiry to begin is not to prejudge its outcome. It is to acknowledge that the preconditions for Congress to initiate that process have undoubtedly been met. The key test is whether a president’s pattern of conduct would merit congressional scrutiny irrespective of the policies he has pursued or the party with whom he identifies.
That test has been satisfied: any president who obstructs an investigation into a foreign power’s attack on our election (and his own conduct), who participates in a scheme to violate federal election law during his campaign for president and covers up those offenses after entering office, or who accepts foreign and domestic emoluments in violation of the Constitution has engaged in conduct that potentially merits impeachment and removal from office.
This decision is one that CREW reaches with great reluctance. Although CREW has not hesitated to challenge President Trump’s unlawful actions in court, file complaints seeking accountability for serious ethical lapses and misconduct, or comment on how the president’s actions may have violated criminal standards of conduct, the health of any constitutional democracy depends on its actors exhibiting forbearance and restraint.
CREW’s call for an impeachment inquiry is grounded in the solemn realization that as a nation, we have exhausted other avenues to achieve executive branch accountability. None of what we have experienced over the last two and a half years was inevitable. From the outset of his administration, President Trump closed off the most important avenue to accountability by failing to set an example of ethical conduct and demand the same from his associates.
President Trump’s failures in ethical and responsible leadership are apparent in each course of conduct that should be scrutinized in an impeachment inquiry. President Trump could have ensured that the Russia investigation was conducted with the independence and cooperation from his office and associates that it deserved, but he did not. Instead, the Mueller Report sets out clear evidence that President Trump repeatedly sought to obstruct and curtail the investigation—especially after it became clear that his own conduct was under scrutiny.
Then-candidate Trump could have complied with federal campaign finance laws by refusing to accept unlawful contributions, but he did not. Instead, to silence women who alleged they had affairs with him, then-candidate Trump apparently caused others to violate those laws on his behalf, failed to report those unlawful contributions as the law requires, and—during his first year in office—participated in a criminal scheme to cover up those crimes by reimbursing his co-conspirator and personal attorney Michael Cohen and lying to federal ethics officials about his liability to Cohen.
Like his predecessors, President Trump could have taken active measures to avoid conflicts of interest, including by divesting from his businesses, but he did not. Instead, President Trump chose to continue profiting from his enterprises and thereby violate the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses whenever he received a profit, gain, or advantage from a foreign or domestic government doing business with his companies.
In recent months, the president and his associates have closed off other avenues to accountability. Despite compiling evidence of potential obstruction of justice by the president in at least thirteen episodes, Special Counsel Mueller followed Department of Justice policy stating that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Even though that policy could be reconsidered, in William Barr, President Trump has appointed an Attorney General who has made clear that he intends to use the powers of his office to protect the president at all costs. In short, the outcome is clear: President Trump will not face criminal indictment as long as he is in office even though if any ordinary American had engaged in similar conduct, they would likely be indicted.
The president, by and through subordinate executive branch officials as well as outside entities including his businesses, has also attempted to stonewall Congress’s efforts to investigate his misconduct. This obstruction of Congress includes matters central to the president’s potentially impeachable conduct, such as the administration’s refusal to comply with Congressional subpoenas requesting an unredacted version of the Mueller Report and underlying investigative materials and the administration’s assertion of dubious privileges and immunities to prevent key government witnesses from testifying or to limit the scope of their testimony. In April, President Trump stated that he and his administration would be “fighting all the subpoenas,” and they have made good on their promise. By asserting baseless privileges and immunities in response to Congressional subpoenas and forcing Congress to litigate each appearance in court, President Trump and his associates are interfering with the basic checks and balances of our Constitution.
As a nonpartisan watchdog committed to rooting out unethical and irresponsible conduct by government officials, CREW would be abdicating its mission if we were to accept either President Trump’s conduct or his assault on accountability as the new normal. By openly and repeatedly violating our constitutional norms and by layering obstructive act upon obstructive act, President Trump has threatened to dismantle the proposition that no person is above the law.
At the start of each Congress, members of the House of Representatives and Senate take an oath to support and defend the Constitution. We have arrived at a critical juncture for them to act on those words. A growing chorus of Members have called for a formal impeachment inquiry to begin. In our view, those calling for an impeachment inquiry to begin have appropriately weighed their obligation to consider the precedent that would be set if President Trump’s conduct were to go unchecked. They have recognized that, particularly given President Trump’s unprecedented efforts to undermine every other form of oversight or accountability, resorting to a formal impeachment inquiry is the only way for Congress to fulfill its obligation to check the extraordinary abuses of executive power that we have witnessed over the last two and a half years.
The greatest risk at this moment in our history is not merely that we will fail to seek accountability for conduct that is incompatible with our constitutional democracy—it is that we will send a clear message to current and future would-be authoritarians that our institutions cannot withstand a naked assault on the rule of law.
The House of Representatives should begin a consolidated impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s obstruction of the investigation of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election and of his own conduct; his participation in a scheme to defraud the enforcement of federal election and ethics laws; and his unconstitutional receipt or acceptance of foreign and domestic emoluments.
Only a single committee vested with authority to conduct a formal impeachment inquiry can assume the responsibilities of assessing whether a president has committed “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” of drafting articles of impeachment if Congress determines that constitutional standard for a president’s removal from office has been met, and of articulating why impeachment is necessary should they decide it is. Although the House Judiciary Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, the House Oversight Committee, and the House Ways and Means Committee have made significant contributions through their investigative efforts into the matters described below, we believe it is time for the House to either create a special committee or delegate to an existing committee jurisdiction over all matters deemed relevant to the potential impeachment of the president.
For those reasons, a single committee should have jurisdiction to investigate President Trump’s obstruction of justice, participation in a scheme to defraud the enforcement of federal election and ethics laws, and unconstitutional acceptance of foreign and domestic emoluments. In this section, we explain why each of these matters merits congressional attention in a forum where exercising Congress’s impeachment power is explicitly under consideration. We also summarize the key allegations that will be central to any inquiry into the president’s obstruction of justice, participation in a scheme to defraud enforcement of campaign finance laws, and violations of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. In so doing, we rely on the facts as they have been presented in official documents, other primary source materials, and reliable public reports. The allegations we describe are only a starting point. Congress will have the ultimate responsibility of determining the scope of conduct it considers to be impeachable, what evidence it deems actionable, and ultimately whether impeachment is appropriate.
Obstructing the investigation of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election and President Trump’s conduct
The Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election (“Mueller Report”) contains substantial evidence that President Trump prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of the president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.
President Trump’s apparent obstruction of justice must be the subject of an impeachment inquiry because undermining the ability of federal proceedings to determine facts and deliver justice is particularly harmful to the rule of law. As Special Counsel Mueller explained, “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.” That concern is pronounced and constitutionally repugnant when the individual in question is vested with extraordinary power to influence federal proceedings and has a specific constitutional obligation to take care that the law is faithfully executed.
Obstruction of justice is also particularly serious when the conduct is targeted at federal proceedings relating to a criminal attack by a foreign power on our election. As detailed in the Mueller Report and court filings, the Russian government perpetrated a two-pronged attack on the United States during the 2016 election. Russia’s attack included a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, including by organizing events in support of then-candidate Trump. The attack also featured a Russian intelligence service-led computer-intrusion operation against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and the release of documents stolen from those individuals and entities to the public via intermediaries, including WikiLeaks. Although the Special Counsel “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” it established that the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump and its associates had numerous links to individuals with ties to the Russian government and “showed interest in WikiLeaks’s releases of documents and welcomed their potential to damage candidate Clinton.”
Volume II of the Mueller Report is the starting point for assessing President Trump’s apparent obstruction of justice. The conduct described in that document is so damning that over a thousand former federal prosecutors signed a statement asserting that President Trump’s conduct “would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.” Although Special Counsel Mueller declined to reach a traditional prosecutorial judgment regarding the president’s obstruction because of that policy, the Mueller Report pointedly stated,
if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.
In our view, Special Counsel Mueller could not exonerate the president because there is substantial evidence that he repeatedly sought to obstruct an investigation into Russia’s attack on the central feature of our democracy—election, by the people, of their president and congressional representatives. The seriousness of that attack is laid out in two of the federal grand jury indictments that the Special Counsel obtained: one of them charged the Russian military agents who stole and released information from the Clinton campaign in a manner calculated to hurt her candidacy and help the president; the other charged Russian individuals and entities that used fraudulent social media accounts to divide and influence American public opinion, again with the goal of denigrating Clinton and boosting then-candidate Trump. The evidence assembled by Mueller indicates that by firing, attempting to fire, and threatening to fire those in charge of the investigation, by asking associates to lie to the press and create false records, and by dangling pardons to his associates to influence their testimony or cooperation, President Trump engaged in a course of conduct designed to delay, impede, and obstruct federal proceedings critical to protecting our democracy.
Mueller stopped short of accusing the president of wrongdoing because he was not empowered to make that call. It is past time for Congress to pick up where Mueller left off. On two occasions, presidential obstruction of justice has been assessed to be an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor: President Clinton was impeached but not convicted for perjury and obstruction of justice, and President Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee approved a resolution containing three articles of impeachment, including one for obstruction of justice. While federal criminal law may help Congress gauge the seriousness of presidential misconduct, it is important to recognize that presidential abuses of power need not be indictable violations of federal criminal law to constitute impeachable “high Crimes or Misdemeanors.” The historical record indicates that the Framers of the Constitution intended to empower Congress with the ability to remove officials who deviated from their duties including by abusing the powers of their office, engaging in corrupt acts, or committing other injuries to the nation (Sunstein, 34-63; Tribe and Matz, pp 45-47).
An impeachment inquiry is needed to assess whether Donald J. Trump, using the power of his high office, personally and through his close subordinates and agents in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, cover up and conceal the extent of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia and WikiLeaks, and conceal the existence of other unlawful conduct that he and his associates engaged in during his campaign, transition, and presidency.
This inquiry should assess a course of alleged conduct that includes President Trump’s:
- Misrepresenting to the American people, by and through his associates, the extent of his campaign and transition’s contacts with Russia;
- Directing subordinates to publicly clear him of wrongdoing, directing subordinates to make false statements, and directing subordinates to create false records;
- Demanding loyalty from the FBI Director and requesting that he discontinue a criminal investigation into Michael Flynn, the president’s outgoing national security advisor;
- Pressuring the Attorney General not to recuse from the Russia investigation and to unrecuse in order to control or confine the investigation;
- Firing the FBI Director for refusing to publicly clear the president of wrongdoing and asserting false, pretextual reasons for the FBI Director’s termination;
- Directing the White House Counsel to ask Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to fire the Special Counsel on the specious grounds that the Special Counsel had disqualifying conflicts of interest;
- Seeking to curtail the Special Counsel investigation, including by asking his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to tell the Attorney General to limit the scope of that investigation and by later asking the White House Chief of Staff to obtain the Attorney General’s resignation;
- Directing White House Counsel Don McGahn to deny true reports that President Trump had tried to remove the Special Counsel and to write a letter “for our records” falsely stating that President Trump had not directed him to have the Special Counsel removed;
- By and through his White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, threatening to terminate White House Counsel McGahn if he did not comply with the president’s request to create a false record;
- By and through public statements and private messages from his private attorneys, dangling the possibility of pardons to influence actual or potential testimony of Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and at least one other witness and/or the cooperation of these individuals with federal investigators; and
- Engaging in at least four episodes of obstructive conduct that would likely satisfy the criteria for criminal indictment if he were not the sitting president of the United States.
The inquiry should determine whether, in engaging in this obstructive course of conduct or plan, Donald J. Trump appears to have acted in a manner contrary to his trust as president and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
Participation in a Scheme to Defraud Enforcement of Federal Campaign Finance and Ethics Laws and Cover Up Associated Crimes
President Trump’s participation in a scheme to violate federal campaign finance and ethics laws and cover up those offenses must also be the subject of a formal impeachment inquiry. There is compelling evidence that in a course of conduct that began when he was a candidate for president of the United States and continued after he assumed the office, Donald J. Trump, in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, engaged in a scheme to defraud the American people and impede enforcement of federal campaign finance and ethics laws by causing campaign finance crimes, conspiring to conceal them, and making criminal false statements.
This conduct must be the subject of an impeachment inquiry because it appears to have involved criminal acts to subvert the laws that protect the fairness of our elections, participation in a scheme to cover up those violations that continued at least throughout his first year in office, and a potentially criminal false statement by President Trump during his first year in office. Although it is possible that the President could be indicted after leaving office for his apparent participation in these crimes, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York who conducted the campaign finance investigation are also bound by DOJ’s policy of not indicting a sitting president. For that reason, Congress is the only forum in which the president can face true accountability for his conduct as long as he is in office.
The fact that some of this conduct occurred while President Trump was a candidate for office rather than wielding official power does not immunize it from congressional scrutiny. The Framers of the Constitution were “practical men” and “repeatedly described corrupt acquisition of the presidency as a paradigm case for impeachment” (Tribe and Matz at 60; see also Sunstein at 122). Federal bribery law, which criminalizes certain conduct after an individual has been nominated as a candidate for public office, reflects the same practical judgment. It also bears noting that in any event, President Trump’s participation in the scheme to commit and cover up election crimes extended into the first year of his presidency and likely involved a false statement on a disclosure form that he was required to submit to federal ethics authorities. Congress would be justified in concluding that a president’s efforts to undermine enforcement of federal campaign finance laws could constitute a high crime or misdemeanor meriting his impeachment and removal from office.
The facts of President Trump’s participation in this scheme to defraud the American people have been laid out by federal prosecutors in court filings, detailed in recently unsealed FBI affidavits and investigative warrants, described in detail by President Trump’s private attorney Michael Cohen in sworn congressional testimony, reported extensively by news outlets, and analyzed comprehensively in a CREW report. During his campaign for president, then-candidate Trump, in coordination with several individuals at American Media Inc. (AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer) and Cohen, caused unlawful campaign contributions to be made on his behalf in the form of hush-money payments to two women who claimed they had affairs with then-candidate Trump. AMI’s Chairman and CEO David Pecker met with Cohen (and reportedly then-candidate Trump) in 2015 and offered the candidate help suppressing negative stories. In 2016, AMI followed through on the offer by paying Karen McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story that she and then-candidate Trump had an affair, then suppressed it. This unlawful contribution – corporations are not permitted to make campaign contributions – was apparently made on then-candidate Trump’s behalf, in coordination with Cohen and likely with then-candidate Trump’s knowledge. Cohen admitted that later in 2016 and at then-candidate Trump’s direction, he paid a second woman—Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniels)—$130,000 for her silence.
The potential scheme to cover up these offenses continued throughout 2017, the first year of Trump’s presidency. In sworn congressional testimony, Cohen admitted that he was reimbursed throughout 2017 in eleven installments totaling $420,000 and has produced some of the checks through which he was reimbursed. Some of them were personal checks signed by the President and some of which were from the President’s trust and signed by Donald Trump Jr. and a senior executive of the Trump Organization. These payments to Cohen throughout 2017 to compensate him for his unlawful campaign contribution in 2016 were potentially acts in furtherance of the scheme.
In addition, on June 14, 2017, President Trump certified that the statements contained on his public financial disclosure form were “true, complete and correct” to the best of his knowledge. This document required him to disclose all liabilities exceeding $10,000; however, the president omitted his liability to Cohen for the Clifford payment. President Trump likely knew of this liability because in 2016, he caused Cohen to make the aforementioned unlawful campaign contributions in excess of the individual limit for the purpose of silencing a woman who claimed she had an affair with then-candidate Trump. President Trump also likely knew of this liability because of the reimbursement payments that were made to Cohen throughout 2017—several of which were on personal checks that President Trump personally signed, and one of which was signed just weeks before the President failed to disclose the liability on his financial disclosure form. On May 16, 2018, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) notified Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein of OGE’s determination that “based on the information provided as a note to part 8, the payment made by Mr. Cohen is required to be reported as a liability.” OGE further stated that Rosenstein might “find the disclosure relevant to any inquiry you may be pursuing regarding the President’s prior report that was signed on June 14, 2017.”
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York reportedly closed its investigation and has signaled that it does not intend to seek additional charges. That decision was reportedly influenced by DOJ’s policy of not indicting a sitting president and potentially represents a second category of apparently criminal conduct for which the president is currently escaping accountability.
An impeachment inquiry is therefore needed to assess whether Donald J. Trump, as a candidate for high office and then President of the United States, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents in a course of conduct or scheme to defraud the American People and impede the enforcement of campaign finance laws of the United States of America, cover up and conceal that criminal conduct during his campaign and presidency, and impede enforcement of federal ethics laws by failing to disclose his liability to Michael Cohen.
This inquiry should assess a course of alleged conduct that includes President Trump’s:
- Entering into an agreement with AMI and Pecker in August 2015 to prevent unflattering stories about then-candidate Trump from surfacing;
- Personally, or by and through his agent Cohen, accepting Pecker’s help negotiating the purchase of McDougal’s story and other rights in the summer of 2016 for $150,000 and/or inducing AMI to purchase the rights to McDougal’s story about her alleged affair with then-candidate Trump by promising to reimburse AMI for the expense;
- Discussing with Cohen the “transfer of all of that info regarding our friend, David” in a conversation in which then-candidate Trump appeared to be aware of the specific amount that AMI paid McDougal for the rights to her story and in which then-candidate Trump also appeared to suggest that Cohen “pay with cash,” a form of payment that would have concealed the transaction;
- Facilitating, through his agent, Cohen, AMI’s contribution to his campaign of the rights to McDougal’s story by establishing a shell corporation, Resolution Consultants LLC, or directing Cohen to accept the transfer of rights to McDougal’s story in September 2016;
- Learning from Pecker that a second woman, Clifford, was attempting to sell the rights to her story that she had an affair with then-candidate Trump in 2006 and 2007 and discussing the purchase of Clifford’s silence in the weeks before the 2016 election;
- Reportedly coordinating with Cohen and Trump Organization CEO Alan Weisselberg about the mechanics of paying Clifford without disclosing then-candidate Trump’s identity and reportedly instructing Cohen in reference to the deal with Clifford, to “get it done;”
- Using a conduit, Essential Consultants LLC, to purchase Clifford’s silence and conceal the Clifford transaction;
- Inducing Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Clifford, which Cohen has admitted was intended “to ensure that she did not publicize damaging allegations before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election;”
- Failing to disclose (or causing his campaign to fail to disclose) AMI’s in-kind contribution of the rights to McDougal’s story as well as Cohen’s in-kind contribution of purchasing Clifford’s silence;
- Reimbursing Cohen for the personal funds he used to purchase Clifford’s silence and paying Cohen a $60,000 bonus on top of the costs he incurred;
- Using his personal trust and signing personal checks to Cohen to reimburse him in eleven payments throughout 2017, the first year of his presidency;
- Failing to disclose his liability to Cohen on his 2017 public financial disclosure form, on which he was required to report the “identity and category of value of the total liabilities owed to any creditor . . . which exceed $10,000 at any time during the preceding calendar year.”
The impeachment inquiry should determine whether in participating in this scheme to defraud the American People and impede enforcement of federal campaign finance and ethics laws, Donald J. Trump acted in a manner contrary to his trust as president and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
Abusing the Powers of the Presidency for Personal Gain, including by Allegedly Violating the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the United States Constitution
President Trump’s misuse of public office for private gain including by apparently violating the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses also must be the subject of an impeachment inquiry. In his conduct while President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has accepted profits, gains, or advantages from foreign and state governments in violation of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses.
This conduct must be the subject of an impeachment inquiry because it involves violations of two anti-corruption provisions that our founders thought so important that they incorporated them into the text of our Constitution. Rather than following the example of his predecessors and taking steps to avoid violating these Clauses, President Trump has instead sought to use his public office for private gain. There is evidence that the framers of the Constitution viewed receipt of foreign emoluments as impeachable offenses. As Edmund Jennings Randolph, a Virginia Delegate to the Constitutional Convention, stated at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, a president “may be impeached” for “receiving emoluments from foreign powers.” (Tribe and Matz at 67-68).
During the transition period between his election and inauguration, President Trump chose not to meaningfully separate himself from privately owned corporations and, upon taking office, President Trump began violating the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses. By accepting profits, gains, or advantages from foreign governments at his properties and though his businesses, President Trump violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause, which bars any federal official from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” without Congress’s consent. Similarly, by accepting profits, gains, or advantages from state governments and components of the federal government at his properties and though his businesses, President Trump has also violated the Domestic Emoluments Clause, which bars the president from receiving any “Emolument from the United States, or any of them” other than his statutorily set compensation.
This conduct is no accident. President Trump has also used the powers of his office for his own personal enrichment in other ways. By hosting taxpayer-funded events at properties owned by his private businesses, President Trump has caused federal funds to be spent at those properties. By making at least 350 trips to luxury properties and members-only resorts owned by his businesses (according to data compiled by CREW), President Trump has signaled that those who pay for access to his properties will have access to power. President Trump’s apparent violations of the Emoluments Clauses are therefore not an incidental consequence of a businessman’s election to the presidency; instead, President Trump has engaged in a pattern of misusing his public office for his own personal enrichment. His continued ownership of his businesses has led to conflicts of interest that potentially affect virtually every aspect of his presidency, from tax and regulatory policy to foreign policy, but it is specifically profits, gains, or advantages from foreign and domestic governments that so concerned the Framers of the Constitution that they expressly prohibited the president’s receipt of them in our founding document.
An impeachment inquiry is therefore needed to assess whether Donald J. Trump, as president of the United States, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, has violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause by receiving, without the consent of Congress, profits, gains, or advantages directly or indirectly from foreign governments, and violated the Domestic Emoluments Clause by receiving profits, gains, or advantages from state governments and components of the federal government.
This inquiry should assess President Trump’s:
- Acceptance of foreign emoluments at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. where,
- Soon after President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a foreign state, spent thousands of dollars on rooms, catering, and parking;
- in February 2017, 2018, and 2019, the Embassy of Kuwait held its National Day celebration;
- on or about April 6, 2017, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Georgia to the United Nations Kaha Imnadze stayed;
- on or about September 11-12, 2017, then-Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak and his delegation stayed;
- on or about June 12, 2018, the Embassy of the Philippines held its independence day celebration;
- on or about March 22-23, 2019, Prime Minister of Romania Viorica Dancila stayed.
- Acceptance of foreign emoluments at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City, including from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, a Chinese majority-state-owned enterprise that is a tenant of the building;
- Acceptance of foreign emoluments at Trump World Tower, where several foreign governments own luxury condominiums;
- Acceptance of foreign emoluments in the form of trademarks awarded to the Trump Organization by the People’s Republic of China in February 2017;
- Acceptance of foreign emoluments at Trump Organization golf courses, hotels, and real estate projects in foreign countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, and other locations;
- Acceptance of domestic emoluments in the form of spending by the State of Maine of approximately $22,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.;
- Acceptance of domestic emoluments in the form of the General Services Administration’s forbearance from enforcing the terms of Trump Old Post Office’s LLC’s lease for the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C., which prohibits any “elected official of the Government of the United States . . . [from being] admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom;”
- Acceptance of domestic emoluments at his businesses and properties in the form of spending by federal government agencies including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, General Services Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service of tens of thousands of dollars.
The impeachment inquiry should determine whether in receiving or accepting these foreign and domestic emoluments, Donald J. Trump acted in a manner contrary to his trust as president and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.
President Trump’s Obstruction of Congressional Investigations
Although CREW’s call for an impeachment inquiry is premised on the three matters discussed above (obstruction of justice, participation in a scheme to defraud enforcement of federal campaign finance and ethics laws, and receipt of unconstitutional foreign and domestic emoluments), it is informed by a fourth category of conduct that might become an additional basis: obstruction of congressional investigations of impeachable conduct.
Presidential obstruction of congressional proceedings is no less harmful to the constitutional order than obstruction of criminal ones. That is especially true in cases of presidential misconduct because Congress is the only body that can accuse a president of wrongdoing. If a president can obstruct a criminal investigation without facing indictment while in office and then successfully obstruct a congressional investigation of that obstruction, he is accountable to no one and is functionally above the law. For that reason, Congress must be able to wield the investigative tools that are inseparable from its impeachment authority.
There is clear precedent for impeachment of a president on this basis. One of the three articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee drafted and approved prior to President Nixon’s resignation accused him of willfully disobeying Congressional subpoenas, “substituting his judgment as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry, interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, thereby assuming to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.”
Already, by and through subordinate executive branch officials, President Trump has caused the executive branch to defy duly issued subpoenas for records and testimony that Congress has sought to advance its legislative and oversight agenda. By and through his attorneys and businesses, President Trump has interfered with Congress’s ability to obtain records and testimony from third parties. Using unprecedented and legally expansive assertions of executive privilege and immunity, President Trump has prevented key witnesses to his own obstruction of justice from providing testimony to Congress. Despite this unprecedented stonewalling, Congress may yet succeed in enforcing its subpoenas in litigation.
In considering whether to pursue this additional rationale for impeachment, the committee tasked with responsibility to conduct the impeachment inquiry should consider the extent to which the president and his administration cooperates with congressional demands for information and witnesses.
Should President Trump nevertheless refuse to comply with Congress’s legitimate exercise of its investigative powers, such conduct should be subject to ongoing scrutiny by the committee charged with conducting an impeachment inquiry and, if necessary, be considered as a fourth, independent basis for the president’s removal from office.