Through the campaign and President Trump’s earliest days in office, there was considerable discussion of impeachment, particularly as it related to Trump’s probable violations of the Emoluments Clause. But no matter how egregious Trump’s misbehavior, there has always been a corresponding argument against impeachment. Trump may have defrauded thousands with Trump University, but that fraud happened prior to his election, making the timing wrong for impeachment. Trump may have sexually assaulted scores of women, but those assaults wouldn’t constitute the kind of “high crimes and misdemeanors” required for impeachment and also happened before he was elected. Trump may be using his power as POTUS to line his own pockets, but those conflicts may have been ratified by the election itself. Bottom line, even though Trump’s nearly every breath seems to register somewhere on the scale from “shady” to downright “sinister,” impeachment is a complex legal-political hybrid for which there isn’t a lot of precedent and there is a whole lot of grey area.
But there’s a good chance that’s all about to change.
President Trump may be about to hand us an airtight case for impeachment and conviction. And if he misses the mark on his first try, he still has several chances to beat out Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton as the only American president ever to be convicted on an impeachment. How’s it going to happen? Well, if Twitter is any indication, our Commander in Chief is at least considering defying a federal court order and simply doing as he pleases.
The State of Virginia is trying to to hold individuals (and perhaps even Trump himself) in contempt for their part in circumventing the court order — which could absolutely be the basis for impeachment.
But wait, there’s more. The President is also setting the stage for blatantly disobeying some court orders out West. This past weekend, Seattle Federal District Judge James Robart issued a temporary restraining order which halted any enforcement of President Trump’s EO. The Department of Justice wasted no time appealing that TRO to the 9th Circuit; the appellate court declined to change Judge Robart’s order and instead, directed both sides to file briefs today before it rules on the matter. There’s nothing unusual about an executive order giving rise to litigation; even if a court (or every court) rules against the Trump Administration on the issue of this executive order, that alone wouldn’t indicate any wrongdoing on the part of President Trump. In fact, the New York Times ran a piece today, reminding readers that Neil Gorsuch—Trump’s recent nominee for Supreme Court—said exactly that:
“To this day, one of the surest proofs any nation enjoys an independent judiciary must be that the government can and does lose in litigation before its ‘own’ courts like anyone else.”
It hardly takes a forensic psychologist to see that Trump is setting us up for questioning Judge Robart’s authority. Whether that questioning amounts to anything more than the typical orange bluster remains to be seen. But whether Trump believes it or not, Judge Robart is a federal judge and does have the authority to issue orders. Like anyone else, Trump’s failure to obey those orders would be illegal and grounds for contempt. And could very easily fall under the “high crimes and misdemeanors” clause in the Constitution which is needed to impeach a president. While Trump may have conned quite a large portion of America into believing that popularity trumps legality when it comes to policy, I’m guessing that most of Congress knows it doesn’t quite work that way. Whether or not a majority (real or imagined, in Trump’s case) of Americans believe the president should violate a direct court order, doing so would be patently illegal.
In the end, we may find that Trump’s signature small-worded straight-talk may be what sinks him. Should it become clear that Trump’s actions directly defied a court order (either in Virginia, Seattle, Brooklyn, the 9th Circuit, or anywhere else) there will be no question about his intent. Trump has been more than clear in his outrage over losing in court:
Right now, the DOJ is furiously drafting briefs and Trump is likely dreaming up the next zinger to throw onto Twitter. As we wait for the administration’s next move, we can do so with equal parts dread and hope. Dread, for the effect it may have on our fellow human beings in need, but hope for it to mark the beginning of what can only be a yuge downfall.
[image via shutter stock]
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- This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.