Impeachment is not a process approached cavalierly. And yet, speculation on impeaching President Trump not only predates his inauguration, but circulated before he even won the election. No doubt, Trump's record unpopularity is largely behind this wishful thinking. But now that he is president, there are several actual reasons why Trump could be impeached.
In America's 241-year history, only two presidents have ever been served with Articles of Impeachment — and neither were ultimately forced from office. (For President Richard Nixon, the looming threat of a likely successful impeachment trial led him to resign before any of the formalities got underway.) As per the Constitution, the president may only be impeached for committing treason, bribery, or other "high crimes and misdemeanors." What qualifies as a "high crime" or "misdemeanor" has been left up to Congress to decide, and what seems most important is the political interest in impeachment.
While Republicans control the House of Representatives — where any impeachment proceeding must start — the likelihood of Trump facing those charges remains slim. But according to several legal scholars, if the will were there, Trump has already committed a number of acts that would absolutely make him eligible for impeachment.
The first reason surrounds Trump's business entanglements and a little something called the Emoluments Clause. It doesn't sound flashy, but read on — it's important. The Constitution states that "no person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office or Title of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.” As James C. Nelson and John Bonifaz point out at Time, the Constitutions framers were adamant that the United States avoid the international reciprocal arrangements that corrupted much of European politics throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
This is a monumental problem for Trump. His titular enterprise, the Trump Organization, does business in 24 countries. For instance, the Wall Street Journal recently exposed details on how a Russian state-run bank helped finance a Trump tower deal in Canada. That at least has the appearance of possible foreign leverage over a sitting president.
Another huge conflict of interest for Trump stems from his business relations with China. Recently, the Chinese government agreed to grant sole use of the Trump brand to the Trump Organization. This is a case that has been going on for over a decade.
Perhaps not a coincidence, then, that the Chinese court ruling in Trump's favor came just one day after Trump publicly embraced the "One China Policy." That stance marked a shift from previous Trump tweets and tough talk on China, not to mention his unprecedented phone call with Taiwan's leader. (One China is a policy recognizing Taiwan as united with mainland China.) And even if there was no understood exchange, Trump's business will now profit, but that depends on the Chinese government. Again, this looks like a bargaining tool.
The only possible way to stay out of trouble with the Emoluments Clause would be to fully liquidate his assets. But Trump has done nothing of the sort. He continues to financially gain from his business ventures with Trump Organization, a circumstance that leaves him open to at least the perception of pay-for-play. And Trump's decision to hand control of operations over to his children seems like the least convincing attempt imaginable to distance himself from the Trump Organization.
One watchdog group, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), has already filed a lawsuit against Trump for violating the Emoluments Clause, and is demanding, among other things, access to his tax returns.
Another possible grounds for impeachment would be definitive proof that Trump's campaign coordinated with Russian operatives to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election. The string of connections between Trump's associates and Russian operatives are numerous.
His first campaign manager, Paul Manafort, once worked to specifically further the interests of Vladimir Putin within the United States. Manafort also "orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation... on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling pro-Russian political party." Ostensibly, Manafort did not reveal this to Trump, which is certainly possible, given he did not disclose his foreign lobbying to the Justice Department, either. And Trump fired him, so that's at least one currently working line of defense for the administration.
Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is currently the focus of an FBI investigation. Flynn suggested to the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that sanctions on Russia could be eased once Trump took office. And while that speaking out of turn certainly broached protocol, it was not illegal.
Flynn also worked as a lobbyist for Turkey, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars under the employ of Ekim Alptekim, a man who has past business dealings with none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin. It doesn't help that Flynn has been paid by Russian propaganda media outlet RT, and even gave a speech at a "Moscow gala" where he sat at the same table as... Putin himself. Flynn later resigned under immense external pressure.
Trump's actions are not helping, either. For starters, Trump may have revealed classified military intelligence to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov. Trump also reportedly asked former FBI Director James Comey to back off the investigation into Flynn — and later fired Comey, who was leading the investigation into his campaign's possible collusion with Russian officials.
And that brings us to a third real possibility for Trump's impeachment: obstruction of justice. Lawrence Douglas argues in the Guardian that the recent appointment of Robert Mueller as special investigator into the administration's ties to Russia is a "death knell" for the nascent presidency. "When Mueller summons Trump to testify under oath, it is hard to imagine a president with such a reckless disregard for the truth steering clear of the pitfalls of perjury," argues Douglas. He also points out that Trump's comment to Comey and subsequent tweet — James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" — could be prosecutable as well.
In other words, if the president has or at some point does interfere with Mueller or the FBI's investigative work, it could be grounds for impeachment. With special counsel Mueller's reputation as a no-nonsense, law-and-order sort of guy, Trump and his administration should feel the heat if there is any misconduct or illegal dealings, of any kind, in their background.
Impeaching a president is no easy feat. Still, if there is reason to do so, many of the pieces are in place now to start the process. What appears most immediately lacking is the political will on the part of Republicans to do so. But a damning piece of new evidence could change that, and change it fast.