BY JASON SILVERSTEIN
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, April 29, 2017
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politic ... -1.3099439
President Trump has courted so much Constitutional disaster in his first 100 days that an impeachment now seems like a safe bet, government ethics experts say.
"He does not seem to show any interest in not violating the Constitution," said Jordan Libowitz, communications director at the ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) in Washington, D.C.
CREW has filed nearly 100 ethics complaints — including lawsuits, FOIA requests and demands for investigations — within the first 100 days of Trump's presidency.Republicans are just as likely to turn against Trump if he proves to be a threat to their agenda . . . . it wouldn't take a majority of Republicans to impeach Trump — only about two dozen would have to side with Democrats in an ouster effort.
"The number of issues we've seen this early in this administration is unlike any other," Libowitz said.
In January, the Daily News spoke with four experts ahead of Trump's inauguration about how he had set himself for potential impeachment from the moment he took the Oath of Office. The experts highlighted Trump's financial conflicts of interest, his hints at obstruction of justice and his potential for perjury in dozens of open lawsuits. No other President, they argued, had ever taken the job with so many causes to lose it.
The News checked back with those same four experts about Trump's first 100 days, and they saw only more reasons to anticipate an ouster. The trouble Trump took to the White House has only deepened or expanded in his short tenure, they said.
One expert, American University Professor Allan Lichtman, famously predicted before Election Day that Trump would win, but would also be impeached.
Lichtman has now bet his prophetic reputation on an impeachment, publishing a book this month, "The Case For Impeachment," that argues a Trump removal is inevitable.
"Everything I predicted before he became President has already come to pass," Lichtman told The News.
"It took more than five years (after inauguration) to impeach Bill Clinton, it took more than five years for Richard Nixon to resign. But time has accelerated under Trump," he said, adding that he doubts Trump will make it to 2020.
After Trump's first 100 days, here's the way his leadership now seems destined for an early end.
Trump took power with a mysterious affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin and a series of strange apparent political ties to the Kremlin.
Since then, answers have still not come about Trump's possible Russian relationship — but the questions and consequences have only intensified.
To recap: The FBI admitted it is investigating alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. National security adviser Michael Flynn resigned after lying about a conversation with a Russian ambassador. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions withheld revealing his own conversation the same ambassador and resisted calls to step down. Even parts of the infamous dossier about Russia allegedly blackmailing Trump - something Trump waved off as "fake news" — have gained more credibility through new revelations.
Even though all the pieces don't yet fit together, all signs point to a problem of Watergate proportions, the experts said.
President Trump's first 100 days make it seem like he might not make it through his first term.
"Every signal (the administration) is giving is like they've got a serious problems that they don't want people to know about," said John Dean, a former White House Counsel to President Richard Nixon who helped expose Watergate.
"If Trump could clean this up, if there was nothing there, he would do it," Dean said.
"He'd be absolutely insane not to do that. But the reason Watergate was not disposed of was because there were indeed connections to the White House."
Dean said the enigmatic expansion of Trump's possible Russian entanglement reminds him all too much of Watergate. He especially sees it in what he calls the "drip, drip, drip" — a slow trickle of leaks that gradually unravel a nebulous racket.
"That drip, drip, drip is what keeps scandals alive," Dean said.
"If a full Russia thing surfaces, it will be the end of his presidency."
It took two years — filled with press leaks, White House denials and cover-ups upon cover-ups — for Watergate to bring down Nixon.
Those keeping a close eye on the Russian affair seem to see the same gears grinding, slowly but surely.
"We still don't know how much fire there is behind all this smoke," Lichtman said.
Business conflicts have grown bigly
Trump's most glaring problem before becoming President was his sordid business history — and his refusal to cut ties with it.
He claimed right before his inauguration that he was divesting his Trump Organization empire, but instead he simply let his sons run the daily operations, while still remaining in charge and even changing his trust documents to let himself secretly dip into profits.
That means Trump has not taken the necessary steps to avoid his most patently impeachable offense: Violating the emoluments clause, an anti-bribery provision in the Constitution.
"The failure to divest, I think, almost fatally subjects him to conflicts of interest that are impeachable," Lichtman said.
Government watchdogs took immediate notice: CREW filed its first lawsuit against President Trump, accusing him of violating the emoluments clause, just three days after his inauguration.
"When he got into office, it was a more nebulous worry," Libowitz, of CREW, said about Trump's conflicts of interest.
By now, he said, it appears clear that Trump is treating his public service as "some kind of side gig."
"He's never been in a position where the benefits have to be anywhere but his bottom line," Libowitz said.
The emoluments clause specifically prohibits the President and other officials in the federal government from accepting gifts from foreign leaders and diplomats — something Trump seems to have made no effort to avoid.
Within his first 100 days, China and Mexico rapidly granted dozens of trademarks for Trump and his daughter Ivanka. The approvals from China even came the same day that Ivanka dined with its president, Xi Jinping. His children have been allowed to sit in on several other meetings with foreign leaders.
Meanwhile, Trump has inexplicably exempted countries where he has businesses, such as Saudi Arabia, from controversial foreign policy orders like his travel ban.
This is all to say nothing of Trump's domestic business conflicts, like supporting the White House's illegal endorsement of his daughter's clothing line.
"All kinds of conflicts seem to be triggered here and it's disturbing that there's not more widespread concerns about that in the government," said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law professor who testified at President Bill Clinton's impeachment hearings.
An emoluments clause breach would require solid proof of Trump knowingly accepting a bribe.
That has not emerged, but the opportunities for it have continued without end.
There is one way, though, that a quid-pro-quo could be unearthed — and it could also bring an impeachment.
There's something in those tax returns
Trump waited until he got into office to declare for good that he will never release his tax returns — breaking years of promises to do so, and becoming the first President since Richard Nixon to keep them hidden.
There is no mechanism in place now to force Trump to release them, and the IRS cannot legally confirm or deny if it is actually doing the indefinite "audit" Trump uses as his excuse.
But the pressure for their release has been renewed.
President Trump brought potentially impeachable offenses with him to the White House, and those have only deepened since then, experts say.
With Trump claiming that tax reform will be his next big priority, Democrats have made clear they won't get behind any of his plans until he shows his papers. Opinion polls have shown the vast majority of American voters want to see them, despite Trump's insistence that his victory proved otherwise.
In lieu of a federal law about tax returns, legislators in more than half of the United States are pushing state laws that would require candidates to release their tax returns to appear on a ballot. That would mean Trump's reelection campaign (which he has already formally begun) could not even be put to a vote without his returns coming out.
Trump's tax returns are a potential Rosetta stone of corruption, giving answers to long-running anxieties about his conflicts, foreign ties and sources of wealth.
The ongoing outrage over his secrecy might make it unlikely the returns will remain hidden for the next four years.
"He promised to release them and it's what we expect," Gerhardt said.
China's president urges restraint on North Korea in Trump call
Gerhardt argued that, at the very least, a Democrat-controlled Congress would not keep letting Trump get away with it.
Trump was in power for less than two months before one of his old returns leaked for the second time in six months.
When journalist David Cay Johnston appeared on "The Rachel Maddow Show" in March to discuss Trump's leaked 2005 returns, he said his journalism career taught him one thing about secrecy: "Every time some high-level politician wants to hide something, it always turns out there`s a reason."
"I have lots of things we can think of that Donald Trump has to hide," Johnston said.
"And Donald Trump really is desperate that we don`t see where his money comes from."
More potential for perjury
Trump's presidency began with about 60 lawsuits against him still open, leaving many opportunities for perjury, which is what led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment proceedings.
Well, the lawsuits are still coming.
The latest legal dramas including six lawsuits from CREW; a civil lawsuit from Gloria Allred, alleging that Trump defamed former "Apprentice" contestant Summer Zervos; and a suit accusing Trump of personally inciting violence at one of his campaign rallies.
As the court papers pile on, the presidency has — surprise — had zero impact on curbing Trump's penchant for "alternative facts."
If any of these lawsuits require Trump's testimony, a single lie under oath would be enough for Trump to follow Clinton's path to impeachment.
So, how would this impeachment really go down?
Those who hate Trump surely salivate at the idea of removing him for any reason.
But impeachment is never as simple as saying "You're fired." The process is slow and severe by design, and it is more likely to be instigated for political purposes rather than legal ones.
That leaves the question of how exactly Trump, who creates a new scandal as often as he tweets, would cross a presidential point of no return.
The most obvious answers are if Trump is indisputably proven to have ties to a major crime, or if the Democrats roar back to Congress in 2018 and start plotting payback for the past two years.
But Lichtman has spent months arguing an alternative theory: Republicans are just as likely to turn against Trump if he proves to be a threat to their agenda.
Lichtman says he saw that schism forming within the first 100 days.
Trump has failed to act on most of his GOP platform pledges and in some cases — such as the disastrous death of the Obamacare replacement plan — he seemingly let them fall by the wayside. Trump's record-low approval ratings and the special congressional elections in Kansas and Georgia also indicate the GOP and its unlikely leader are already losing luster with voters.
Trump himself still has no known deep ties to his party or its leaders, unlike Vice President Pence, who Lichtman calls an "ideal conservative" waiting in the wings.
"Trump is a liability," Lichtman said.
He pointed out that it wouldn't take a majority of Republicans to impeach Trump — only about two dozen would have to side with Democrats in an ouster effort.
Lichtman also suggested yet another way out: Trump might pull a Nixon and resign if a legitimate scandal begins blowing up in his face. That is, after all, the only way Nixon avoided impeachment.
Noting Trump's history of corporate bankruptcies, court settlements and failed business whims, Lichtman suggested it's within Trump's character to simply step aside rather than admit to failure.
"He likes to present himself as a fighter, not a quitter," Lichtman said.
"But he has the history of a guy who walks away when things get tough."