To: Interested Parties
From: Elliot Mincberg, Senior Fellow, People For the American Way
Date: February 22, 2019
Re: Holding Trump Accountable for Corruption After Mueller Report
As reports continue to surface that special counsel Robert Mueller may be nearing completion of his work, an important question arises: what next to try to hold President Trump accountable for his corruption and abuse of power? Obviously much depends on the results and report of the Mueller investigation. But the scope of Mueller’s work is limited, and particularly given the opportunities for oversight and investigations in the House of Representatives under Democratic control, there are important opportunities to hold Trump accountable that Americans should assist in promoting
Specifically, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authorized Mueller to conduct criminal investigations into links or coordination between Russia and individuals associated with the Trump election campaign and any matters that have arisen from that investigation such as allegations of a cover-up. Mueller has referred other criminal matters to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in New York City, which reportedly will continue criminal probes of Trump’s political operations and businesses even after Mueller completes his work.
But after Mueller’s investigations end, and after other criminal prosecutors continue confidential criminal investigations, it is crucial that media and activists for good government focus on other matters. It is important to hold Trump and his associates accountable for the rank corruption and abuse of power in his presidency and in the campaign, particularly in order to benefit Trump, his family and/or his associates. The number of topics is large and growing; at least 85 subjects have been identified by House members for oversight, while there are well over 200 federal lawsuits pending against Trump, with more than 100 filed against him in the first six months of 2018 alone.
Described below are eight categories of corruption and abuse of power by Trump, his family, and his associates, all related to his being or becoming president, which will be subject to House oversight and litigation, and which Americans should support and encourage:
Attempted misuse of emergency power to build wall across southern U.S. Border
Even after Trump caused a partial government shutdown and saw Congress refuse to appropriate enough funds for his border wall, he declared a so-called national emergency and announced he would seize for himself the billions of dollars he wants. Reports suggest that in addition to abuse of power to try to fulfill a campaign pledge despite the lack of any real emergency, building the wall could well benefit a Russian company with ties to both Vladimir Putin and the Trump family. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler has already announced an investigation and hearings, California and 15 other states plus others have already filed lawsuits, and Congress will vote on a resolution of disapproval. Particularly since Trump can veto such a resolution, public involvement will be crucial, as demonstrated by the thousands who protested the declaration across the country on Presidents’ Day.
Abuse of position as president to get foreign money for businesses, in violation of Foreign Emoluments Clause
A specific clause in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution prohibits a president from receiving any money, “emolument”, or gift “of any kind whatever” from a foreign government. But there is strong evidence that Trump has obtained precisely such payments for his businesses. These include foreign payments to Trump Organization corporations, particularly hotels and restaurants, whose profits flow to him. Several lawsuits are proceeding in the federal courts against Trump for such corruption, and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR) has undertaken oversight and investigation.
Accepting payments beyond his salary from federal and state government, in violation of Domestic Emoluments Clause
A clause in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution prohibits the president from receiving “any other emolument” or payment in addition to his salary while in office from state or federal government. Again, there is strong evidence that Trump has violated this Domestic Emoluments Clause as well. Examples include public pension fund investments in seven states that benefit Trump and a favorable General Services Administration (GSA) lease to a Trump hotel in D.C. Attorneys representing Maryland and D.C. re proceeding with a federal lawsuit on the issue, and in addition to HOGR oversight efforts, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is investigating the GSA for its misconduct. Americans have taken action themselves, launching campaigns to stop state officials from making investments that benefit the Trump Organization.
Business and other dealings with countries like Russia and China, producing corrupt influence on U.S. policy
House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff has announced a wide-ranging probe into Trump’s past and continuing business and other dealings with Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and other countries, and the extent to which such dealings produced “leveraging” by such foreign countries to improperly influence U.S. policy. Examples include reports of possible money laundering involving Russia and Saudi Arabia, that Russia has obtained personal and business information that it is using to influence Trump, and that a Chinese decision to loan money to a Trump project in Indonesia was connected with an almost simultaneous directive by Trump to his Commerce Secretary to try to help a Chinese company with employment issues. Other committees, notably the House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Financial Services Committee, are participating as well. In mid-February, HOGR released a report and launched an inquiry into nuclear power proposals with Saudi Arabia that could involve conflicts of interest with Trump allies and family members.
Sanctioning corporate influence on cabinet and other agencies, leading to regulatory rollbacks and other pro-corporate action
This has been a problem since the Trump administration began, but now the House can and will investigate and hold hearings on big business helping direct administration policy and harming consumers and the American people. For example, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will focus significant efforts on business influence on the EPA, including efforts to roll back climate change protections, cut back on enforcement of clean air and water standards, and suppress an agency report on clean water hazards. The House Financial Services Committee has begun major oversight initiatives, including probing pro-industry action or inaction by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on payday lending and recent settlements with business, questioning sanctions relief by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin concerning businesses with ties to a Russian oligarch connected with former Trump campaign officials, and investigating allegations of improper conduct by big banks like Deutsche Bank.
Refusing to disclose tax returns, which helps conceal other possible misconduct
President Trump has stubbornly resisted past efforts asking him to reveal his tax returns. Now that Democrats control the House, the House Ways and Means Committee has already begun action on this front, holding a hearing in January on the importance of obtaining Trump tax returns to help probe possible conflicts of interest and IRS violations. Committee Chair Richard Neal has stated that he plans to use his legal authority under federal tax law to request those returns from the Treasury Department, which is likely to lead to a court battle.
Directing and concealing improper payments during the campaign to women who claimed harassment by Trump
This allegation has long been discussed in the press, but now House committees can take action to investigate and document what happened. HOGR has made this an important priority, and Committee Chair Elijah Cummings has focused on securing public testimony by Michael Cohen, a former Trump lawyer who was involved in those payments. Latest reports indicate that Cohen will testify in open session before HOGR, as well as in closed session before the House and Senate intelligence committees, before he begins serving his prison sentence in early May
Abuse of Trump family charity, including to help in 2016 election
Most of the activity in this area has been from the New York Attorney General, who filed a 2018 lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation and members of the Trump family, including the President, accusing them of “sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign.” The investigation and lawsuit have continued even after Trump agreed to dissolve the charity, and reports have suggested possible criminal action by state and federal authorities, including the IRS.
As House Judiciary Chair Nadler explained in February:
The President of the United States faces numerous allegations of corruption and obstruction…His conduct and crude statements threaten the basic legal, ethical, and constitutional norms that maintain our democratic institutions. Congress has a constitutional duty to be a check and balance against abuses of power when necessary. Before anything else, however, we have to follow the facts and conduct the sort of oversight that has been completely absent over the last two years.
Precisely that kind of effective oversight by the House, coupled with civil lawsuits in the courts and actions by state attorneys general, will be crucial to hold Trump and his associates accountable, in addition to and after the Mueller investigation.