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Constitutional Expert Says Move to Impeach Trump Can Proceed Without Derailing FBI’s Criminal Probe


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org,
The War and Peace Report, as we turn to the movement to impeach President Donald Trump. In November, a half dozen Democrats introduced
articles of impeachment against Trump, accusing him of obstruction of justice and other offenses. Cosponsors include Democratic Congressmembers
Steve Cohen, Luis Gutierrez, Al Green, Marcia Fudge, Adriano Espaillat and John Yarmuth. This comes as a petition for impeachment launched
in October by Democratic donor Tom Steyer now has more than three million supporters. At least 17 communities around the country
are now on record calling for impeachment proceedings against Trump. On Tuesday, the town of Weston, Massachusetts
joined the list when residents supported a citizen petition asking the House of Representatives
to assess whether Trump is violating the Constitution. For more, we’re joined here in New York
by constitutional attorney John Bonifaz. He is co-founder and director of Free Speech
for People. John, welcome back to Democracy Now. JOHN BONIFAZ: Thank you, Amy. AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this overall movement
and why you see impeachment as your way to deal with your dissatisfaction with the president
of the United States. JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, to be clear, what we’re
doing here with this impeachment campaign that we launched with Roots Action on the
day of the inauguration, because the president had refused to divest from his business holdings
all across the world in defiance of the anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution—what we’re
doing, Amy, is designed to defend our Constitution and our democracy. This is not about being dissatisfied about
certain policies of the president. This is about the Constitution and the basic
fundamental principle in this country that no one is above the law, not even the president
of the United States. And he walked into the Oval Office that day
already defying the rule of law, already refusing to comply with those two anti-corruption provisions
of the Constitution. AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what those two
anti-corruption articles of the Constitution are and what he refused to do with his businesses. JOHN BONIFAZ: So those two anti-corruption
provisions are the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause. The Foreign Emoluments Clause makes clear
that the president shall not receive nor any other federal elected official shall not receive
any payments or financial benefits of any kind from any foreign governments. The Domestic Emoluments Clause applies only
to the president, and says he shall not receive any financial benefits or payments of any
kind from the federal government or the state government other than his federal salary. This is a president who has 111-plus business
interests all over the world, many of which involve illegal foreign benefits, foreign
government benefits to him personally through his company, the Trump Organization, as well
as having properties all over the United States that involve state government benefits and
the federal government through the leasing of the Post Office Square in Washington D.C.
that is now the place where the Trump International Hotel resides. So what we’re dealing here with is a president
who knew prior to taking the Oval Office, warned by constitutional scholars that he
needed to divest from his business interests in order to comply with those anti-corruption
provisions. He refused to, and he is engaged in treating
the Oval Office as a profit-making enterprise at the public expense. AMY GOODMAN: How have things changed since
January when Donald Trump became president? JOHN BONIFAZ: I think what has happened is
we’ve seen a growing list of impeachable offenses that require an impeachment investigation
in the U.S. Congress parallel to the Mueller investigation. This is not a question of having to wait and
see whether or not the federal criminal investigation that’s proceeding turns up violations of
federal criminal law by the president or any of his associates. That’s a separate question. The question here are crimes against the state. That is what impeachment is about. Abuse of power, abuse of public trust, and
not only through the violations of the anti-corruption provisions. There is now of course evidence of obstruction
of justice. There is evidence of potential conspiracy
with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 elections and violate federal campaign
finance laws among others. There is now evidence of abuse of the pardon
power in the pardoning of former Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. There is recklessly threatening nuclear war
against a foreign nation. There’s misuse of the Justice Department
to try to prosecute political adversaries. And there’s the giving aid and comfort to
neo-Nazis and white supremacists. All of this, all of this deserves an impeachment
investigation in the U.S. House of Representatives. AMY GOODMAN: So in response to some Democratic
leaders warning against calls for impeachment before Robert Mueller’s investigation has
been completed, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer defended his $20 million ad campaign
to impeach President Trump and blasted his critics, telling the Wall Street Journal,
“The Republican nominee wasn’t really a Republican. The person who energized the Democratic Party
wasn’t really a Democrat. So when I hear the Washington establishment
tell me shut the f up, I think ‘well, maybe.’” And on Thursday he tweeted, “It doesn’t
surprise me that the political establishment in Washington D.C. can’t imagine the idea
of the American people having an independent voice. They’re scared of any threat to their control
but it’s important to do what’s right,” said Tom Steyer. I want to play a clip of the ad that has been
running on television. TOM STEYER: He has brought us to the brink
of nuclear war, obstructed justice at the FBI, and in direct violation of the Constitution
he has taken money from foreign governments and threatened to shut down news organizations
that report the truth. If that isn’t a case for impeaching and
removing a dangerous president, then what has our government become? AMY GOODMAN: That’s the billionaire Tom
Steyer who has spent millions on this ad campaign that’s running on television. Can you talk about what he is attempting to
do—the Need to Impeach campaign—and whether you’re working with him, John Bonifaz? JOHN BONIFAZ: We’re in communication with
Tom Steyer and his team about collaborating possibly, and we do think what’s important
here is to elevate the national conversation. He’s obviously helping to do that. We fully agree with all that he’s saying
about the need for this impeachment process to move forward in the House of Representatives. And the more voices that come forward from
the American people all over the country is going to help push that forward in Congress. AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about what’s
happened this November, these six House Democrats announcing they’ve introduced articles of
impeachment against President Trump. This is Congressman Steve Cohen making the
announcement on November 15th. REPRESENTATIVE STEVE COHEN: I’m proud to
stand here with my friend, Congressman Gutierrez, with other congresspeople who will be here,
in announcing that we are introducing articles of impeachment to remove President Trump from
office. There will be I believe six signatories on
the resolution. We have taken this action because of great
concern for our country and our Constitution, our national security and our democracy. We believe that President Trump has violated
the Constitution, and we’ve introduced five articles of impeachment. AMY GOODMAN: Again, that’s Congressmember
Steve Cohen of Memphis, Tennessee. Joining him, Luis Gutierrez of Chicago, Marcia
Fudge of Ohio, Adriano Espaillat of New York, John Yarmuth of Kentucky and Al Green of Houston,
Texas. So explain what they’re introducing. JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, they’ve introduced five
articles of impeachment, and they’ve done it as a group. And it’s significant because up until now,
there were two members of Congress, Al Green being one of them—Congressman Al Green from
Houston—and Congressman Brad Sherman from Los Angeles, who had introduced articles of
impeachment around obstruction of justice. These articles go beyond obstruction of justice,
including that but also the violations of the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses
and the president’s continued attacks on freedom of the press and on the independence
of the judiciary. And what’s significant here, Amy, is that
these articles have been introduced by members of Congress despite the continued opposition
by their own party’s leadership in the Congress. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has made clear
that she doesn’t think impeachment should move forward at this time, and yet they are
going ahead and moving this forward. And I think they’re asking for other members
of Congress to join them beyond those who already have stepped forward. And we as Americans all across the country
should push for an impeachment investigation and should urge our members of Congress to
take the same kind of action. AMY GOODMAN: So, respond to Nancy Pelosi. What these Democrats are saying is this is
not the way to retake the House in 2018. That if you disagree with the president, the
way to deal with that is through elections. Explain why you see impeachment as key. JOHN BONIFAZ: We’re a nonpartisan organization. We’re not involved in the political strategy
of any political party. What we’re focused on is defending our Constitution. At this particular moment in time, it is not
acceptable to say that we will simply kick the can down the road and wait until after
an election cycle to lay the groundwork for the impeachment proceedings. They may not happen tomorrow. They may not get started next month. But the fact is we need to be laying that
groundwork and making this call now. And members of Congress, whether they’re
Democratic, Republican, Independent or what have you, need to be stepping up to protect
and defend the Constitution. That’s the oath they took in addition to
the president taking that oath to protect, defend and preserve the Constitution. And the other point on this, Amy, is that
Nancy Pelosi has been saying that we don’t have the facts out. We don’t have the Mueller investigation
completed. But what they’re really saying is they want
other facts out. Because we already have the facts out about
what this president has done with respect to the emoluments clauses, with respect to
obstruction of justice and so many other impeachable offenses. And when we look at the Mueller investigation,
we’re mixing apples and oranges. That’s a criminal investigation—whether
or not the president and his associates have committed violations of federal criminal law. The question of impeachment is about abuse
of power, abuse of public trust, crimes against the state. And it is just wrong for any member of Congress
to suggest that a criminal investigation needs to be completed before an impeachment proceeding
can begin. AMY GOODMAN: One of the people who has gone
before the congressional committees is Roger Stone, one of President Trump’s oldest advisers. He issued what appeared to be a veiled threat
warning in August—any politician who voted to impeach President Trump would face a violent
response. ROGER STONE: Try to impeach him. Just try it. You will have a spasm of violence in this
country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen. REPORTER: You think? ROGER STONE: No question. REPORTER: You think if he got impeached, the
country would go to…? ROGER STONE: Both sides are heavily armed,
my friend. Yes, absolutely. This is not 1974. The people will not stand for impeachment. A politician who votes for it would be endangering
their own life. There will be violence on both sides. I want to make this clear. I’m not advocating violence, but I am predicting
it. AMY GOODMAN: That’s Roger Stone speaking
to TMZ. He says there would be a violent response. John Bonifaz? JOHN BONIFAZ: It’s an outrageous statement,
but it also highlights that we cannot allow fear to dictate our response to this lawless
president. We cannot say that we’re going to stay on
the sidelines here while the Constitution is being shredded because of that kind of
claim that Roger Stone or anyone else might make. AMY GOODMAN: So explain how impeachment would
work. What would the process look like? JOHN BONIFAZ: So the first process involves
the House Judiciary Committee taking up the question. The House of Representatives would need to
pass a resolution that would advance to the House Judiciary Committee the question of
an impeachment investigation or articles of impeachment. Congressman Al Green has said that he wants
to go to the floor with a privileged resolution immediately that will force a vote in the
House of Representatives as early as in the next few days in this coming week. But beyond that process, the process of having
the House Judiciary Committee take up this question would then involve subpoena power,
would then involve taking witnesses. This is what happened during the Nixon impeachment
proceedings. I understand when people say, “Well, the
Republicans control the House Judiciary Committee. They control the House of Representatives. They control the Senate. Where do we think this process could actually
go?” But there were plenty of people who argued
on the day that we launched this campaign on Inauguration Day that there was just no
way people would be standing up to demand this, and now we see millions of Americans
demanding it. Now we see 17 communities on record, and now
we see seven members of Congress on record. And the facts continue to build that this
president is defying the rule of law. We must place country over party here and
stand up for the basic principle that no one is above the law. AMY GOODMAN: So if you were arguing for the
impeachment in Congress, if you were laying out the case against Trump over this almost
a year that he’s been in office—not quite yet—can you lay out the articles of impeachment? JOHN BONIFAZ: Yes. We would start with the violations of the
two anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution, the Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic
Emoluments Clause. This president is treating the Oval Office
as a profit-making enterprise at the public expense. He’s taking illegal payments and benefits
from foreign governments in violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, and he’s taking
illegal payments from the state governments around the country as well as from the federal
government in violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause. That’s point one, or point one and two,
if you will, because they are two different clauses. Then you have obstruction of justice. This is a president who first demanded loyalty
of his former FBI Director James Comey. When he didn’t get that, he went ahead and
fired him for not letting go, as he put it, of the Flynn investigation and “this Russia
thing” as he said. That was obstruction of justice. That FBI director was involved in investigating
the Russian interference in the 2016 election and its potential connection to the Trump
campaign. It led to the appointment of special counsel
Robert Mueller. And now we know based on new reporting by
The New York Times that soon after that, the president sought to stop the congressional
investigations in the Senate that continue to go on with respect to that. So obstruction of justice, which was the first
article of impeachment against Richard Nixon, would certainly be part of this case. Then we have the potential conspiracy with
the Russian government, potential collusion to violate federal campaign finance laws and
other federal laws and interfere with our elections. That evidence continues to be built. But it’s also an impeachment question, and
the House Judiciary Committee should take that up. Then we have the abuse of the pardon power. This is a power that is not unlimited by a
president. And what the president has done with the pardon
of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is he has essentially undermined the due process
rights of the thousands of people who were impacted by Sheriff Arpaio’s illegal actions. This is the sheriff who was found in criminal
contempt of court for refusing to stop his illegal practices of detaining people based
on the color of their skin. And this president went ahead and und used
the pardon power in a wrongful way to pardon him. Then we have the giving aid and comfort to
neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Not just what the president said after the
Charlottesville tragedy, but also his most recent tweets, tweeting out inflammatory anti-Muslim
videos. This president is giving that aid and comfort
to white supremacists. Then this president also has engaged in recklessly
threatening nuclear war. Now, the fact is that the president is the
commander in chief. He does not have the power to initiate a war. That is established under the War Powers Clause
despite the fact that we’ve seen violations of it in the past. But this takes it to a whole new scale. This is a president who literally is engaged
in recklessly threatening nuclear war against a foreign nation. That reckless and wanton disregard for the
established norms and for essentially putting millions of lives at stake, threatening really
the world, is an impeachable offense. And then finally, most recently, this president
has talked about how he would like to see the Justice Department prosecute Hillary Clinton
and other political adversaries. This misuse of the Justice Department or attempted
misuse to prosecute political adversaries would be another impeachable offense worthy
of investigation. AMY GOODMAN: How much support do you have
around the country? JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, I think what we’re seeing
from the people both signing our petition at ImpeachDonaldTrumpNow.org, and the petition,
Need to Impeach, that Tom Steyer has initiated, is that there are millions already literally
on record. Millions of—1.3-plus million on our petition. He has over three million, and he’s reaching
a lot of people through that ad campaign. And those members of Congress, some of them
have said that they’ve been responsive to what they’re hearing among their constituents. So I think people are ready to stand up, and
they need to, because this is an urgent matter. This is not something again that we can wait
on or something we look at in 2019 or 2020. We need to lay the groundwork now for the
call for impeachment proceedings against this president. AMY GOODMAN: How does Michael Flynn fit into
this picture, who today is going to make a plea deal where he admits that he lied to
the FBI? JOHN BONIFAZ: I think the more we see the
evidence of the lawlessness of this administration, it will only propel further the call for impeachment
proceedings. Again, the Mueller investigation is critical. It’s about federal criminal violations that
may have occurred. But that is separate and apart from whether
this president is violating his power, abuse of power and abuse of the public trust. And that’s what the impeachment process
is for. AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, John
Bonifaz, for joining us. Constitutional attorney and co-founder and
director of Free Speech for People. This is Democracy Now. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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