Day 10: The tools to speak

In a bit of serendipity — or whatever we’re calling it nowadays — an editorial about impeachment I’d composed several days ago ran in our town paper today. The text is below.

Any citizen, including you, can start the resolution process in your city or town: here is a guide. 

Today, added obstruction of justice to its resolution text. Read about it here, then please sign the petition (currently at over 900K signatures. We’d like to get a million).

Are There Grounds for Impeachment?

by Holly LeCraw

There’s been a lot of talk lately about originalism, the belief that our Constitution should be interpreted as closely as possible to the framers’ original intent.

Here, then, is some pure originalism: in 1787, the framers were deeply concerned that our young country could end up another monarchy, in fact or spirit. They worried that leaders could become beholden to foreign powers. They worried that leaders would use elected office for personal gain. So they included provisions to address just those possibilities: the emoluments clauses. James Madison and company considered these clauses to be essential to the long-term health and viability of the United States of America.

What’s an emolument? It’s an old-fashioned word meaning profit, salary, fees from services, or compensation — or, quite simply, advantage. The President of the United States may not receive emoluments from either foreign governments or domestic sources. By design, violating this rule would have dire consequences: Edward Jennings Randolph, a Constitutional Convention delegate and the first Attorney General, declared that the president, “if discovered” to have received emoluments, “may be impeached…It is impossible to guard better against corruption.”

In Newton, right now, there is a petition before the City Council to pass a resolution calling on Congress to open an investigation into whether grounds exist for the impeachment of President Trump. The first hearing will be in June. I, for one, believe that those grounds do exist — but also, more importantly, that it’s crucial to bring the facts before the people. A democracy cannot function without free and full exposure to facts. If we are to remain a functioning constitutional democracy and a nation of laws, we must investigate.

Unlike past presidents, both Democrat and Republican, who have scrupulously avoided the suggestion of corruption by selling their assets and putting the proceeds in blind trusts, Trump kept ownership of his businesses, although he turned over management to his sons. The Trump Organization is still, most assuredly, cashing checks — and from whom? Foreign embassies are holding events at the Trump Hotel in Washington (even breaking contracts with other hotels). The largest tenant in New York’s Trump Tower is a government-controlled Chinese bank (which has also made huge loans to Trump). Trump-branded properties are around the world, including Turkey and other countries with corrupt, strongman rulers — and the Trump sons are busily arranging more. Soon after his election, Trump received long-sought, lucrative trademarks from the Chinese, as did his daughter Ivanka. These are just a few examples from a long and growing list.

Domestically, the Secret Service is paying Trump for space in Trump Tower, as well as Mar-a-Lago fees for the Secret Service and foreign guests. The membership fee at Mar-a-Lago doubled right after Trump was elected; Trump’s frequent, expensive trips to this private club are functioning as worldwide advertisements for it — so much so that the State Department was even touting “the winter White House” on its website, before a public outcry forced the page’s removal.

Any tax breaks Trump’s companies receive at the federal or state level (in the past, he’s received almost $1 billion from New York State alone) are emoluments. Any regulatory actions that will benefit Trump’s businesses are also emoluments, and there are endless possibilities: HUD enacts policy that benefits Trump’s low-income housing properties; the EPA rolls back environmental regulations affecting his golf courses; the Commerce Department handles his trademark disputes; OSHA oversees his construction sites; new tax reforms benefit his bottom line; and on, and on, and on.

Cities and towns have a long tradition of calling on their federal representatives to act in their interest. In Congress, neither party is addressing this issue — and so we, their constituents, must make our voices heard. Similar resolutions calling for impeachment investigations have already been passed in almost a dozen cities and towns nationwide, including Leverett, Pelham, and Cambridge, MA, with more in process in Brookline, Wellesley and Boston. Last Friday, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution by a 10–0 vote.

Trump’s been referred to as a “businessman president,” as though entwining his business and the highest office in the land were normal. This is a deeply dangerous precedent. Any president of the past, of either party, would have already been brought down if he’d indulged in even one of these egregious violations. Trump is using the Oval Office to mightily enrich himself and his family. If he is not stopped, this astonishing corruption will filter down through all levels of government, and we will truly become a kleptocracy — far, far from the visions of the founders of this nation, and of the millions of people through its history who have fought and died for it. We, the people, have the tools to speak. We must lead.

 — Holly LeCraw is a novelist, a Democratic state convention delegate, and a leader of Indivisible Newton Centre.

This piece originally appeared in the Newton, MA Tab. I will update with a link when it’s live (small paper, tiny staff).