Trump’s free-wheeling made impeachment inquiry inevitable

For Donald Trump, the United States of America is his business.

He runs the U.S. government like a subsidiary of The Trump Organization, which he wholly owns and is designed to make him both wealthy and famous.

He has managed the federal government much as he manages his company – hands on, without a board of directors and staffed by family and people who enjoy basking in his attention.

In the narrow world of real estate, the most successful operators are not limited by a code of conduct.  In privately held property companies, the boss sets the rules and goes as far as possible in bare-knuckle dealing.

Trump learned that exuding an aura of great confidence, even if that meant using “hyperbole” – his word for lying – intimidated competitors and created an irresistible sense of success.  You might know you were not “the best,” “the first,” or the “the greatest,” but you could get others to believe it.

The operation of government is based on a series of shared understandings about the Constitution and laws.  With his business approach, he has seen no reason to observe them, if they get in the way of his objectives.

He misuses executive powers to the fullest, ignoring congressional intent in granting those powers.  Just as he has no board of directors in his business, he avoids dealing with Congress as much as he can.  Congress has seemed helpless to cope with his style of governing.

He has pushed the limits of acceptable government behavior, sometimes going too far.

Trump is the first president to engage in private business while serving in office.  Though he turned day-to-day operations over to a son, he has not separated himself from The Trump Organization.

He touts his hotels and golf courses and encourages their use.  He profits when people seeking government favors stay at his hotels.  The constitutional prohibition on public officials receiving money from people who have business with government, the “emoluments clause,” seems to fit Trump.

His campaign knowingly accepted from help from Russia, though he only solicited its support as a joke.  No collusion.

It was important to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign, most of it unsolicited help.  But Trump repeatedly sought to undermine all investigations.  By blocking efforts to get at the facts, he interfered with the course of justice.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller found evidence of such interference and did not absolve Trump.  Instead, he left any action to Congress, using the facts he had uncovered.

This summer, Trump tried to get the new Ukraine president to open an investigation of Joe Biden, a potential presidential opponent, and his son.  There is no evidence against them.  He took this action just after placing a hold on urgently needed anti-Russian aid to Ukraine.

Are Trump’s actions less serious than Andrew Johnson’s resisting Congress’ attempt to block him from removing a cabinet officer or Bill Clinton lying about his sexual activities?  Both presidents were impeached by the House, though the Senate did not remove them from office.

The United States of America is not a business.  Impeachment, found in the Constitution, allows for an investigation of “misconduct of public men,” Alexander Hamilton wrote.  Without a board of directors, it is a way to hold the president accountable to somebody other than himself.

Hamilton, one of the drafters of the Constitution, recognized that impeachment was political and that charges would likely be brought by members of an opposing party.  That’s human nature.  That is why a high hurdle was set for conviction.  It requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate.

An impeachment investigation seeks evidence of alleged wrongdoing and does not force removal from office.  The process itself educates the people and the Senate.

Impeachment should not be undertaken lightly.  It can undermine government and popular confidence in it.  The House should not impeach simply because it opposes Trump’s policies or tactics.  If issues are purely political, they should be left to the ballot box.

Trump’s financial gains from his businesses while serving as president, Mueller’s obstruction of justice charges and Trump’s obvious and admitted request for political help from a foreign leader merit serious review.  Congress has an obligation to the Constitution that matters far more than political allegiance or winning elections.

The impeachment process casts a shadow not only on Trump but over the country.  No responsible person could have wanted it.  But, if an impeachment investigation had not begun because of the clear issues Trump has raised, this constitutional provision would have become a dead letter.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.