Cut out of impeachment, emoluments crusaders plot plan B
But some lawmakers are concerned that if the House votes on — but fails to pass — an emoluments impeachment article, it would undermine a lawsuit that more than 200 Democratic lawmakers filed in 2017 alleging Trump is violating the foreign emoluments clause through payments received at his numerous properties.
On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral arguments on whether the lawmakers have the legal right to file the lawsuit. And on Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., will hold arguments on a similar lawsuit brought by local officials in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.
The White House and the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment. Trump has denied that he is using the presidency to promote his resorts and claimed he’s received unfair scrutiny because of the ” phony emoluments clause.”
Before he was sworn into office, Trump was urged to fully separate from his eponymous company, which comprises more than 500 businesses. But he ignored those calls, retaining ownership of his business. Instead, he placed his holdings in a trust designed to hold assets for his benefit. He can withdraw money from the trust at any time without the public’s knowledge.
Shortly after House Democrats took control of the House, they launched investigations into whether Trump was violating the emoluments clause, which forbids a president from profiting off of foreign governments unless approved by Congress, or from receiving any money from the U.S. government except his annual salary. They are even looking into an allegations that groups — including at least one foreign government — tried to ingratiate themselves to Trump by booking rooms at his hotels but never staying in them, POLITICO reported.
CREW estimates that 111 officials from 57 foreign countries have spent money at Trump Organization properties. The company has responded to the scrutiny by donating $350,000 to the U.S. Treasury that it said came from foreign governments. But watchdog groups say the amount should be higher.
Trump has also visited his properties more than 300 times since he was sworn into office, according to a compilation of information released by the White House, leading Secret Service and other agencies to spend more there. But there’s no way to determine how much in total the administration is spending at Trump properties because no single entity tracks that money.
The House Oversight and Judiciary committees has also demanded the administration and Trump’s company release details about the president’s call to host a Group of Seven world leaders’ summit at his Doral property in Florida, as well as Vice President Mike Pence’s recent stay at a Trump resort in Ireland. But those requests have been ignored.
The House is also fighting Trump and his administration in court in an effort to obtain more financial documents from the president, but it isn’t likely to receive any information for months even if it ultimately wins.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that she asked six House committee chairmen to draft articles of impeachment as soon as next week, meaning a final impeachment vote could come before the end of the year.
The House has drafted an emoluments impeachment article, but even those pushing it say it’s unlikely to receive a vote, according to lawmakers and staffers.
Austin Evers, former senior counsel in State Department who is now executive director of American Oversight, a watchdog group working with Congress on oversight, said he would prefer the House to include emoluments in the articles. Still, he acknowledged the issue has not galvanized Americans the way the Ukraine allegations have.
“The public has known about emoluments from the first day of presidency, but it has not captured the public’s attention like Ukraine,” he said.
In that scandal, Democrats have accused Trump of conditioning a much-desired White House meeting and millions of dollars in military aid on Ukraine opening an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter. Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani have argued that the probe was simply part of a broader effort to eradicate corruption — they allege that Biden, as vice president, helped protect his son’s business interest in the country. No evidence has emerged that Biden intervened on his son’s behalf in Ukraine.
The most likely House impeachment articles will likely allege abuse of power, obstruction of justice and obstruction of Congress stemming from the Ukraine scheme. Lawmakers are also considering an article tied to Trump’s attempts to stymie Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, which the special counsel outlined in his final report.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, which has been investigating Trump’s businesses, said he thinks the impeachment scope should be broader than those items. But he deferred to House leaders on a final decision.
“I want the most effective thing,” he said. “My instinct is should be more comprehensive than smaller, and if they ask me that’s what I would say. But on something like this, I would defer to their judgement.”
Some progressive Democrats have even pushed for impeachment articles on topics such as Trump’s policy to separate immigrant children from their parents at the southern border, or his perceived racist actions. Moderate Democrats, however, are more comfortable with an impeachment effort that limits the focus to Ukraine.
Technically, even if Trump is impeached in the House, lawmakers could still vote again on a new article of impeachment before Trump is tried in the Senate. But legal experts said such a situation is almost unimaginable, as lawmakers would face significant due process objections.
“I think there would be a legitimate due process argument that House managers can’t simply tack on new allegations to articles once they are passed and that articles of impeachment have to be sufficiently specific to put the president on notice of the allegations against him,” said Ross Garber, a lawyer who defended four governors facing impeachment.
If Trump is acquitted in the Republican-controlled Senate, as expected, House lawmakers could always vote to impeach Trump a second time. But House leaders, already reluctant to go down this path once, would assuredly not be willing to do it again during an election year.
Still, Corey Brettschneider, a Brown University professor who wrote a book on the Constitution and the presidency, urged the House to keep investigating emoluments.
“They keep the hearings going on other issues and if they find cause for more articles of impeachment, then they could vote those up and there’d have to be a second trial,” he said. “If there really is a pattern of this president using the office for his own personal profit, the Congress is obligated to act.”
Darren Samuelsohn contributed to this report.