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It’s Time for an Intervention in Washington DC (Part 3 of 3)


There is no question that Season 2 of the Trump Presidency is shaping up to be far more exciting than Season 1. In this past week’s episode alone, the President said “you’re fired” to the very same FBI Director investigating him over Russia ties, met the next day in the Oval Office with two Russian officials (allowing  only one reporter to be present – from Russian state news), there was riveting testimony before Congress from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates (“you’re fired”), and poor Press Secretary Sean Spicer hid in the bushes from reporters.

But really, for the good of the nation, the show needs to be cancelled – ideally before Season 2 is over. It is not healthy for Americans to wake up wondering if, while they were asleep, their President might have tweeted out the start of World War III, launched nuclear weapons, or haplessly brought on a major economic collapse.

Below are seven ways that the show can be brought to an early close and we can get on with our lives.


Ending #1

Trump’s profits as President are found to violate the STOCK Act.

Likelihood:

Somewhat Likely

Background:

The STOCK Act was written to prevent Congress from profiting from their legislative decisions. Frustrated that this restriction did not also apply to then-President Obama, legislators added the provision that “no executive branch employee may use nonpublic information derived from [or acquired through] their position as an executive branch employee as a means for making a private profit.”

Relevant Facts:

  • When President Trump chooses to spend another weekend at his for-profit Mar-a-Lago resort (he has done this most weekends since his Inauguration), some of his security and staff must also stay there. If he or his family profit from that, it would be a violation of the STOCK Act. As a side note, after Trump was sworn into office, Mar-a-Lago resort doubled its membership fees.
  • The President has chosen to have his wife and son live at Trump Tower instead of the White House. An on-site Secret Service detail is required to provide security for them. If Trump or his family profit from that arrangement (rent, etc.), it would be a violation of the STOCK Act.
  • As a President with for-profit businesses, Trump has numerous conflicts of interest (see a partial list here). Many of these have potential to be seen as violations of the STOCK Act. When you hear the phrase “conflict of interest” on the news in regard to Trump, think “STOCK Act.”
  • Because the STOCK Act applies to “executive branch employees,” it may also apply to many of Jared Kushner’s and Ivanka Trump’s business activities, because  those businesses may now represent conflicts of interest.

Areas of Uncertainty:

Few

Potential Action:

  • Congress can commission an investigation into Trump’s business activities, and whether Trump is profiting from them.
  • The House and Senate Intelligence Committees should each be provided at least ten paid full-time staff with strong backgrounds in the law and finance to work solely on investigating the many questionable issues surrounding President Trump.
  • Congress can ensure that the FBI has adequate resources to investigate.
  • If Trump is profiting from any of his businesses in a way that is positively impacted by nonpublic knowledge that he has as President (including the decisions that he makes as President), he is in violation of the STOCK Act.

Implications of Inaction:

  • Donald Trump can use decisions that he makes as President to enrich himself and his family – sometimes with government (i.e. our tax) money.
  • Decisions made in President Trump’s best personal/financial interest may not always be in the best interest of the United States. That is why it is called a conflict of interest.
  • The legitimacy of Congress as a trusted check on the Executive Branch will be put into question.
  • Americans’ belief in the integrity of our democracy will be further eroded.

Ending #2

Trump’s Presidential profits from foreign entities are found to violate the “Emoluments Clause” of the Constitution.

Likelihood:

Slim

Background:

Written in the 1700s to prevent US ambassadors abroad from being influenced by wealthy Europeans, the Emoluments Clause in Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution forbids a President from taking gifts or payments from foreign leaders. Exact text: “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” An emolument is defined as a salary, fee or profit.

Relevant Facts:

  • Foreign officials are believed to be paying to stay in Trump properties in order to curry favor with the President of the United States.
  • A New York hotel owner has joined a lawsuit alleging that the President owning nearby hotels is creating unfair competition for other hotels.
  • Trump rents his properties to foreign businesses and individuals as well, such as the Chinese government-controlled Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

Areas of Uncertainty:

  • Even among Constitutional scholars, there is disagreement about whether the wording of this clause definitely applies to Trump’s situation. Do the profits nonetheless smell of bribery at worst and disregard for ethics at best? Absolutely.

Potential Action:

  • Congress can commission an investigation into money paid by foreign governments to Trump’s businesses, and whether Trump or his family are profiting from those payments.
  • Congress can ensure that the FBI has adequate resources to investigate.
  • The House and Senate Intelligence Committees should each be provided at least ten paid full-time staff with strong backgrounds in the law and finance to work solely on investigating the many questionable issues surrounding President Trump.
  • If Trump and/or his family are making a profit from those payments, it is possible that a case could be made that the Emoluments Clause has been violated. That case would depend upon a specific interpretation of the law and would almost certainly end up in the Supreme Court, to be decided at their discretion.

Implications of Inaction:

  • Foreign governments and leaders may be able to influence the President in ways that are not in the best interests of America.
  • The legitimacy of Congress as a trusted check on the Executive Branch will be put into question.
  • Americans’ belief in the integrity of our democracy will be further eroded.

Ending #3

Trump is found to have colluded with Russia in their interference with the 2016 Presidential Election, or he is found to be currently under Russia’s influence.

Likelihood:

Somewhat Likely

Background:

Title 18 of the US Code, Section 1, Chapter 115,  § 2381 states “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

Relevant Facts:

  • Russia President Vladimir Putin is no friend of the United States. As a former officer in the KGB (the then-Soviet Union’s equivalent of the CIA), Putin considered it an affront to national pride when the Soviet Union collapsed – a situation for which he blamed the US. He has harbored a grudge ever since, and has dreamed of one day reuniting the Soviet Union and restoring what he considered its former glory – by force if necessary. That is why it was so worrisome when Putin annexed Crimea in the Ukraine on March 18, 2014: the act was likely one of many steps that Putin has in the works to reconstitute the old Soviet Union. In order to achieve his goals, Putin understands that he needs to weaken western countries (and their alliance, NATO) so that they cannot be a potent counterforce. So Russia has recently been trying to politically destabilize western countries like Germany, France, the UK, and the United States, in part through interfering in their elections.
  • Eric Trump allegedly boasted about his family getting enormous amounts of money in loans from Russia – a claim that he now denies.
  • Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, while doing “opposition research” for one of Trump’s Republican political opponents and later for a Democratic client, claims to have discovered evidence that Russia could be blackmailing Trump. Disturbed that what he had found was of grave concern to both the wellbeing of the US and UK, Steele bypassed his client and presented this findings to the US intelligence community in a dossier before the 2016 election.
  • All of the evidence of collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia is currently circumstantial, but there is a lot of it (too much to list here). Here are a few links to sources that have compiled or are compiling the information:

Areas of Uncertainty:

  • Given the 2016 Trump Campaign’s many Russian connections, it seems quite possible that someone in the campaign may have coordinated in some way with Russia to help or encourage Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 US election. However, for Trump to be implicated in any way in the Russia scandal, there would need to be evidence – testimony, documents, e-mails, recordings, financial records – showing that Trump himself either actively participated in or at least knew about cooperation between his campaign and Russia. That may be a high bar to reach.
  • FBI Director James Comey, who appeared to be doggedly investigating these connections and was beginning to ramp up his efforts significantly, has been fired. It is currently uncertain whether the person appointed by Trump to investigate Trump will be as bright, diligent, nonpartisan or trustworthy.

Potential Action:

  • A special prosecutor and an independent committee, both agreed upon by a majority of both parties in Congress, should be appointed by Congress to investigate the possibility of collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia, as well as the possibility of any current influence that Russia may have on the President or his Administration.
  • The special prosecutor and independent committee should be given all the funding and resources that they need to conduct a thorough investigation.
  • The House and Senate Intelligence Committees should each be provided at least ten paid full-time staff with strong backgrounds in the law and finance to work solely on investigating the many questionable issues surrounding President Trump.
  • Congress can ensure that the FBI also has adequate resources to investigate.
  • If sufficient evidence is found that Trump collaborated with Russia in any way in their interference, was aware of collaboration in his campaign, or is currently being influenced by Russia, appropriate legal action (including removal from office) should happen immediately.

Implications of Inaction:

  • Putin may be able to overtly or covertly influence Trump to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the United States or its allies. Some of these decisions could have profound negative implications for the wellbeing and future of the United States. It would give Putin no greater satisfaction that to see the US fail, to become the object of international ridicule or hatred, and to become as relevant on the world stage as a third world banana republic.
  • Putin will likely become more aggressive toward countries of the former Soviet Union, testing western powers to see what we are willing to do to stop him.
  • If Trump is believed by our allies to be in collusion with Russia, our allies – relationships that the United States has cultivated over decades and even centuries – will begin to shift their alliances to more trustworthy partners than the United States, putting the US in danger of having less support in military conflicts, among other situations.
  • The legitimacy of Congress as a trusted check on the Executive Branch will be put into question.
  • Americans’ belief in the integrity of our democracy will be further eroded.

Ending #4

Trump is found to have been involved in criminal activity before his 2016 Presidential run.

Likelihood:

Somewhat Likely

Background:

  • Money laundering is the act of processing tainted money in a way that makes the money appear “legitimate” It is an illegal activity that is often associated with organized crime.

Relevant Facts:

  • According to Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston’s recent book “The Making of Donald Trump,” businessman Donald Trump occasionally worked with individuals involved in organized crime.
  • In 2006, former Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort paid an enormous amount in cash to buy a condo at Trump Tower in a transaction that had the appearance of money laundering.
  • In 2008, Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to a Russian oligarch named Dmitry Rybolovlev – at a 150% profit from his purchase price two years prior – in a transaction that had the appearance of money laundering.
  • While money laundering would obviously not be reported as such in one’s taxes, Trump’s tax returns and those of his businesses could show other questionable transactions worthy of investigation. Trump has thus far refused to release his tax returns.

Areas of Uncertainty:

  • A pattern of activity as well as criminal intent would likely need to be established in order for this activity to be considered something worthy of impeachment.

Potential Action:

  • The Senate Intelligence Committee has recently requested documentation on Donald Trump from the US Treasury’s financial intel unit as part of its Trump-Russia probe. This is an excellent start toward getting at the truth of Trump’s financial dealings.
  • The House and Senate Intelligence Committees should subpoena Trump’s tax returns and those of all his businesses.
  • The House and Senate Intelligence Committees should each be provided at least ten paid full-time staff with strong backgrounds in the law and finance to work solely on investigating the many questionable issues surrounding President Trump.
  • Congress can ensure that the FBI has adequate resources to investigate as well.
  • If Trump is found to have knowingly been involved in criminal activity, appropriate legal action should be taken.

Implications of Inaction:

  • If Trump has been knowingly involved in criminal activity, he could potentially be blackmailed by anyone who has proof, and could therefore be influenced to make decisions that are not in the interest of the American people.
  • If Trump has been knowingly involved in criminal activity, and is allowed to remain in the highest political office in the land, our children will learn a horrible message about crime and its consequences.
  • The legitimacy of Congress as a trusted check on the Executive Branch will be put into question.
  • Americans’ belief in the integrity of our democracy will be further eroded.

Ending #5

Trump is found to have interfered with a federal investigation.

Likelihood:

Very Likely

Background:

Relevant Facts:

  • In 1974, US President Richard Nixon was forced to resign not so much because of the crimes that he had committed, but because of his attempts to cover them up afterward, which was also a crime.
  • On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was in charge of investigating him.
  • Days earlier, Comey had asked for more resources to intensify the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia – an indication that evidence was increasing and was worth pursuing more vigorously.
  • Explanations coming from White House spokespeople for Comey’s firing lacked credibility, because they contradicted Trump’s past statements about Comey. Two days after the firing, however, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump himself connected the firing with the Russia investigation, saying “But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
  • After the interview, upon hearing that Comey had described a January dinner conversation between Trump and Comey in a way that conflicted with Trump’s story of the event, Trump tweeted something that sounded like a threat:
    Week-0019-170513-007
  • If President Trump is guilty of any kind of illegal behavior, what we have witnessed of his personality thus far indicates that he will attempt to cover it up, and his attempt will likely be quite clumsy, easily proven, and illegal in itself.

Areas of Uncertainty:

  • Specifically regarding Trump’s statement to Holt, while it sounds somewhat incriminating, it is still not a direct, unequivocal statement that “I fired Comey because I was concerned that his investigation of me would result in my impeachment and/or imprisonment.” With the evidence currently available to the public, Comey’s firing alone is unlikely to rise to the level of an impeachable act. It is very suspicious and raises a lot of questions, but it is also within the President’s legal authority.
  • The assessment that Trump’s impeachment for interfering with a federal investigation is “Very Likely” is based on an expectation of future actions by the President.

Potential Action:

  • As Trump is being investigated, Congress, journalists, law enforcement, federal employees, and the American people should be paying attention to any attempts by the President or his associates to destroy evidence, fire/reassign investigators, or otherwise interfere with the investigation.

Implications of Inaction:

  • America will be thrown into a Constitutional crisis.
  • The power of the Executive Branch will outweigh the other branches of government, with the potential for a shift in America’s form of government toward authoritarianism.
  • Americans’ belief in the integrity of our democracy will end.

Ending #6

Trump willingly resigns.

Likelihood:

Likely

Background:

  • The 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, Section 3, provides for the President of the United States to be able to resign. He must provide his written resignation to the Senate majority leader (in this case, Mitch McConnell) and the Speaker of the House (in this case, Paul Ryan). Exact text: “Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.”
  • Nixon resigned to avoid the embarrassment of an almost certain impeachment. As impeachment of the current President becomes increasingly likely,, Trump may choose the same path in order to save face.

Relevant Facts:

  • There are several investigations into Trump that are heating up and appear likely to bear fruit.
  • Trump would not want the embarrassment of impeachment. A way to avoid that is for him to resign.

Areas of Uncertainty:

  • Trump has a history of denying facts even when presented with irrefutable evidence. He may just hang in there no matter how bad things look for him.
  • It is unclear if the communication can be done via tweet. If that were possible, Trump could make history by being the first to do it. His tweet could be something along the lines of:

@SenateMajLdr @SpeakerRyan The #FBI and #fakenewsmedia are making it impossible for me to do my job. I hereby #resign. America’s loss. Sad.


Ending #7

Trump is found “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

Likelihood:

Somewhat Likely

Background:

  • The 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, Section 4, states that the President of the United States can be removed if he or she is deemed unable to do his or her job. Exact text: “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

Relevant Facts:

  • Mental health professionals have broken with tradition and publicly expressed their conclusion by the tens of thousands that the President is mentally ill or mentally unstable, offering diagnoses that include everything from malignant narcissism to cocaine use to alzheimers. However, the idea that there must be a specific clinical diagnosis muddies the waters. The behaviors that lead to those diagnoses are what matters.
  • The President regularly makes statements that are easily proven false, indicating that he is either boldly and willfully lying or he is frighteningly disconnected from reality. Among his false statements are:
  • The President behaves with the impulsiveness of an eitght-year-old child. This is not a trait that we want in the person in command of our military and our nuclear arsenal.
  • The President is not competent to run the country. Evidence would include his chaotic White House, the hundred of key positions that he has not yet chosen to fill, and the slap-dash way that his first Muslim ban was rolled out, among many others.
  • The President is profoundly gullible. His claim about Obama wiretapping him, for example, was the result of a conspiracy theory that he heard expressed by a guest on Fox News. Trump immediately tweeted the conspiracy  theory rather than consulting the people who could actually tell him if it was true or not. What if Fox or Breitbart ran a story that North Korea had just launched missiles at us? What if he hears a rumor on Twitter that China is thinking of invading us?
  • The President is erratic in his policy positions. One minute NATO is outdated and needs to be disbanded, then it’s a vital international organization. One minute Mexico is paying for his wall, then we are. One minute China is a currency manipulator, then it’s not.

Areas of Uncertainty:

Few

Potential Action:

  • Vice President Pence and a majority of Trump’s Cabinet need to submit a written statement to the Senate majority leader (Mitch McConnell) and the House Speaker (Paul Ryan) that President Trump is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” or
  • Congress can appoint a nonpartisan group with relevant backgrounds to assess the President’s ability to serve effectively. If that group determines that Trump is unfit for the office of the Presidency, that group and Vice President Pence need to submit a written statement to McConnell and Ryan that the President “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

Implications of Inaction:

  • Allowing President Trump to continue in office while displaying the kind of impulsive, dishonest, disorganized and gullible behavior that he has shown so far puts America at risk. Among the risks to the nation:
    • He will not be believed by foreign leaders. Some degree of credibility and trust from other countries is essential to our international safety. If we are in a situation where we must legitimately go to war and we are asking our allies to commit the lives of their troops – their citizens – to help us, they need to believe in our President’s honesty and judgment 100%. That faith is currently shaky at best and getting worse by the day.
    • Trump’s erratic and impulsive nature and potential inability to distinguish reality from fantasy creates a risk that he might use nuclear weapons, an act which would certainly be reciprocated and which would usher in a worrisome international norm that we haven’t  had to live with for decades. As it is, he has put nuclear weapons back on the table in a way that many thought was a thing of the past.
    • A chaotic and understaffed Executive Branch makes us woefully unprepared to respond adequately in times of crisis.
    • It is questionable whether the President understands or has even read the Constitution that he swore to defend when he took the oath of office. A President who is ignorant of the US Constitution cannot defend it properly.
  • The legitimacy of Congress as a trusted check on the Executive Branch will be put into question.
  • Americans’ belief in the integrity of our democracy will be further eroded.

Necessary Conditions:

With the exception of Trump’s resignation, all of the above scenarios require a US House and Senate willing to seriously explore the possibility of the President being a risk to the country or having committed wrongdoing, and to pursue appropriate consequences based on the facts.

Given the highly partisan nature of the House and Senate, both of which are currently controlled by Republican majorities, action on their part will require massive and consistent public pressure.


Likely Negative Consequences of Removal from Office:

While one would hope that America could simply scrape Trump off the bottom of its shoe and walk away clean, removal of Trump from office will almost certainly have negative consequences.

First, Trump’s replacement would be Mike Pence, who may be even more disagreeable than Trump on some issues. However, Pence carries one powerful calling card that makes him a infinitely more desirable than President Trump: mental stability.

The more significant consequence of removing Trump from office is the response of his supporters, who have generally remained silent in recent months. While some might interpret that silence as shame or embarrassment, it is far more likely that they are simply tired of being called stupid and racist and having to justify their views to self-righteous hypocrites who don’t listen to them anyway. A recent poll by ABC News/Washington Post shows that 96% of Trump’s supporters have no regrets about their vote. Let that sink in.

The more that Trump’s removal from office is seen by them as unfair, unjust, partisan, or the work of the “establishment,” the more outraged his followers are likely to be. Under the wrong circumstances and if not addressed thoughtfully, removing Trump from the Presidency could make the current divisions in the nation look blissfully peaceful in comparison. Decades of silenced and sidelined bitterness that had been given voice via Trump and which was being channeled through the system will suddenly be left with no clear appropriate outlet.

Thus, anyone wishing to pursue the impeachment of Trump should devote equal energy to doing something that may be new to them: listening.

Trump voters are not going away. They are a part of America. They need to be heard respectfully and with humility, rather than being shut down before they have time to express a complete thought. Their statements need to be responded to with questions to gain deeper understanding rather than with judgment. Their viewpoints must be scanned meticulously for areas of common ground, places from which a unifying political agenda can be built, and places from which long-damaged personal relationships can be rebuilt. Their sources of ideas and information should be listened to on an ongoing basis in a mutual exchange of ideas. When facts are presented to counter fiction, it should be done so respectfully.

The awfulness and nonstop crisis presented by Trump’s Presidency has been an understandable but potentially disastrous distraction from the Democratic Party’s ability to engage in any genuine introspection to discover and meaningfully address their own blind spots. If Democrats come through this experience without learning to listen, look at themselves, and stop judging people, they will have failed as much as the Republicans, and, worse yet, will leave the door open for another Trump-like monstrosity to take office in the future.



You Get to Choose How the Show Ends!

Trump’s Presidency will no doubt have an exciting conclusion with lots of drama – we would expect nothing less from our President – but it’s absolutely time for an intervention in Washington DC. Here’s what you can do:

  • Contact your US Senators and US Representative, especially if they are Republican, and tell them why you believe that Trump should be removed from office. You can get their contact info here and find dates and locations of town halls here. Constant pressure on them is important.
  • If you don’t see your legislators taking the action that you want, get involved in political campaigns in 2018 to get Democrats elected to the US House and US Senate.
  • Reconnect with Trump supporters that you stopped talking to or unfriended on Facebook. Tell them that you’d like to start over and to hear them out. Start slow. Listen. Suspend judgment. Don’t bail. When you want to express an opinion, ask an open-ended question instead to better understand their views and the reasons behind them. Keep asking questions. Whenever you want to judge, remind yourself that your best political instincts and your best thinking about how to handle people with different ideas has resulted in the situation we’re in now. Look for opportunities to feel empathy and compassion, to see a human being, and to find common ground. Has the person experiencing real pain, injustice, hardship or loss, and has merely misidentified the cause? Take the time to really listen to that pain until you can feel it as if it were your own. Hold firm to your values but trust that instantly squashing ideas with which you disagree is not the only way to change them.
  • Start paying attention regularly to sources of news and opinion that you would ordinarily reject. Listening does not mean that you support or agree with what is being said. It merely means that you are trying to get a better grasp of what is influencing people that you don’t understand.
  • Share this article on social media or via e-mail.

– rob rünt

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