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The Case Against Donald Trump: Rep. Al Green Says President Must Resign or Face Impeachment

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As fallout from President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen’s plea deal and former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s guilty verdict continues to grow, could President Trump be next? We speak about the possibility of impeachment with Democratic Congressmember Al Green, who introduced articles of impeachment against Trump last year, and Ron Fein, legal director at Free Speech for People. He is the co-author of the book “The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump.”

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Video squareStoryAug 22, 2018Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty & Implicates Trump as Paul Manafort Is Convicted. Is Impeachment Next?
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Fallout from President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen’s plea deal and former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s guilty verdict is continuing to grow in Washington. On Capitol Hill, a number of key Democratic senators are calling for a halt to the nomination process for Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said, quote, “No American citizen should be able to choose the person who will be judging them when they are subject to a criminal investigation should those matters come before that judge.”

Booker’s comment came a day after Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, directly implicated Trump in committing a federal crime. Cohen admitted that he arranged to illegally pay out money to two women—an adult film star, Stormy Daniels, and Playboy model Karen McDougal—to keep them from speaking during the 2016 campaign about their alleged affairs with Trump. Cohen said the payments were made, quote, “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office” and that they were made “for the principal purpose of influencing the election.”

Meanwhile, talk about the possible impeachment of President Trump is also growing. Earlier today, Trump was asked about impeachment during an interview on Fox & Friends.

AINSLEY EARHARDT: Seventy-six days away from the midterms, hard to believe. If the Democrats take back power, do you believe they will try to impeach you?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, you know, I guess it says something like high crimes and all—I don’t—I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job. I’ll tell you what: If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor, because without this thinking, you would see—you would numbers that you wouldn’t believe.

AMY GOODMAN: The Need to Impeach campaign has announced plans to spend over a million dollars in ads pushing for impeachment. The campaign is funded by billionaire Democratic donor Tom Steyer.

But the Democratic leadership has resisted calls for impeachment. The New York Times reports House Democratic leaders have privately urged members to avoid the topic of impeachment. Some senior Democrats fear talk of impeachment will hurt the party’s chances in November.

Meanwhile, there have been other Democratic lawmakers who have been publicly pushing impeachment for over a year. We go now to one of the first, to Houston, Texas, where we’re joined by Democratic Congressmember Al Green, who introduced articles of impeachment against Trump last year.

Congressman Al Green, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, talk about why you want President Trump impeached now. And have your reasons changed over this year? You were the first to openly introduce articles of impeachment, against the wishes of the Democratic establishment.

REP. AL GREEN: Well, thank you for allowing me to be on the program.

This is a very sad time in the history of our country. This is not something that I enjoy talking about, nor is it something that I would like to do. But I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that the president will have two options: One, he can resign from office, or, two, he can face impeachment.

Impeachment is something that the Framers of the Constitution provided for a time such as this and a president such as Trump. The president does not have to commit a crime to be impeached. In fact, the president is not likely to be indicted, which means he’s not likely to be found guilty of a crime while he’s sitting, which means that if this comes before the House, it won’t come before the House as a president who has been found guilty, but rather as a president who is alleged to have committed certain offenses that are onerous to the Constitution and that harm society. And what this president is doing is harming society.

More specifically, what Mr. Cohen stated in court—he had a lawyer. He is a lawyer. He says that he and the president of the United States conspired. He didn’t use that exact word, but that’s what it means when you say the president directed you, and you followed through. So they conspired to commit an offense. The president may never be found guilty of it, but he can be impeached for it.

It’s my opinion that the Judiciary Committee is not doing its job. This whole impeachment investigation is being outsourced. The Framers of the Constitution intended for the Judiciary Committee to do this—gather information, make decisions, move forward. If the Judiciary Committee doesn’t move forward, then I think it’s incumbent upon the 435 members, each of whom have the opportunity to bring articles of impeachment, to consider doing so. I will surely consider doing so.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Representative Green, as you’re aware, many of your Democratic colleagues in Congress are saying that the crucial thing to do now is allow Robert Mueller to go ahead with the investigation. And I’d like to turn to one of those senators, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, being questioned about why many Democrats remain hesitant to talk about impeachment proceedings. CNN anchor John Berman questioned her on Wednesday.

JOHN BERMAN: And what I’m hearing from you, Senator, and what I’ve heard from you in your interviews over the last few months—and you’re not alone among Democrats here—is a reluctance to talk about the I-word directly. Why? Why would you be nervous to say, “Hey, I think the House Judiciary Committee should hold hearings and look at this as an impeachable offense”?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: I’m not nervous; I just want to be effective. And the way that any of us are effective is to say, “Let’s get all of the evidence. Let’s get all of the pieces out there. Protect Robert Mueller. Let him finish his investigation. Let him make a full and fair report to all of the American people.” And when we’ve got that, then we can make a decision on what the appropriate next step is.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Representative Green, your response to what Senator Warren said? Is the key thing now to let Mueller go ahead—to protect him and allow him to go ahead with the investigation?

REP. AL GREEN: One of the pre-eminent reasons for my being a Democrat is because within the Democratic Party there is not a belief that you must have unanimity of thought. We are allowed to be thinkers. We are allowed to have our own ideas. And I respect the ideas of all of my colleagues. And I believe that while their ideas should be respected, I, too, have ideas that must be respected.

It’s my opinion that you cannot allow an unfit president to continue to cause harm to society. Let’s take just a few examples quickly. When those persons in Charlottesville were saying “blood and soil,” “Jews will not replace us,” many of them worked in places that probably serve Jews and minority persons. One can only imagine what would happen to the food of a person who is of African ancestry who is being served by one of those bigots, one of those racists. Let’s take the example of what happened at the border with those babies that were being separated from their mothers by virtue of a policy instituted by this president. That was a form of bigotry that is intolerable. We don’t have to allow the president to continue to harm our society.

The Framers of the Constitution contemplated that there would be a president who would do things even more horrible than this, but also things as horrible as this, such that that president could be removed from office. And the Framers concluded that no person should be above the law and that the president should not be beyond justice. It is justice that we seek for the people of this country, and the president should be impeached. He doesn’t have to commit a crime, only has to have his case brought before the House of Representatives, and 218 people decide that he has committed an impeachable act.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a recently—

REP. AL GREEN: If the Judiciary Committee doesn’t act, I will.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Green, I wanted to turn to a recently resurfaced clip of Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham. This is back almost a decade ago, in 1999—actually, 20 years ago. Then-Congressman Graham argued for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for seeking to hide evidence of his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. This was recently highlighted on MSNBC.

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic, if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. … Because impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator-now Lindsey Graham is not exactly speaking in the same way.

In addition to congressmember—in addition to Congressmember Al Green, we’re joined by Ron Fein, legal director at Free Speech for People. He’s the co-author of a book that is just out right now. The book is called The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump.

You’re not in Congress, Ron, you’re outside Congress. You’re part of a movement around the country calling for the impeachment of President Trump. You’ve been doing that for quite some time now. Did yesterday, the day of the guilty pleas and verdicts, change your demands? And what—if you can lay them out?

RON FEIN: Yeah, I think yesterday was a very big day. And I want to commend Representative Green, as well as some other brave members of Congress, who have been calling for impeachment before this point. But what happened yesterday with Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer to the president of the United States stating in open court that Donald Trump directed him to commit crimes, is a game changer. And it’s going to have repercussions that will be felt over the coming weeks. But what’s important to know, as Representative Green said, this is not the only basis for impeachment hearings. And the Judiciary Committee is long overdue for impeachment proceedings on a whole other range of grounds about Donald Trump.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Representative Green, you said earlier that Trump’s case should be brought before the House of Representatives to a vote about whether Trump should be impeached. But do you think there would be sufficient support for that vote? And also, you said that if it’s not brought to the House, you will act. What exactly do you intend to do?

REP. AL GREEN: Well, Dr. King reminds us that the time is always right to do that which is right. And we cannot allow political expediency to trump the moral imperative to save our country from the harm that this president perpetrates. I have no desire to be first. But if the Judiciary Committee doesn’t act—and it has a duty and a responsibility to do so—I’m going to get back to Congress. I’ll wait to see what the Judiciary Committee will do. And if it does not act judiciously, then it is incumbent upon me and other members to take this to the floor of the House. That’s the bar of justice for the president. It won’t be found anyplace else as long as he’s president. And we have our responsibility. I will live up to my duties, my responsibilities and my obligation. By the way, whether we like it or not, whether we won it or not, or whether we oppose it, impeachment is going to be on the ballot in November.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about that issue? Some people say, “Why impeachment? Let people vote.” And they voted for President Trump, even if millions more did not vote for President Trump. “But let the election decide who will be president.” Why is impeachment such an important tool for you, Congressmember?

REP. AL GREEN: First, let me acknowledge the author that is on with us. I think he was very kind, but his advice is quite clear that impeachment is an option.

And here is why we should move forward with impeachment. Because of the harm the president is currently doing to our society. You cannot allow this harm to continue. At some point, the harm can become irreparable in certain circumstances. We don’t want our country to become a country wherein persons of color who are arrested by the police may be harmed because the president has said, before police officers, “When you arrest a person, when you get them in custody, you need not be nice.” That’s encouraging persons to violate the Constitution. We don’t want the persons who were in Charlottesville to think that they now have cover for their dastardly deeds and their ugly protestations.

We want this country to be what it’s said to be—a place where one can receive liberty and all can receive justice. That’s what America is about. That’s what I’m about, not about my career. It’s about character. Do we have the character, the courage and the belief that we have to stand on the Constitution? I do believe we should.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I’d like to turn to former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo talking about impeachment to CNN’s Poppy Harlow Wednesday. He spoke about the November elections.

MICHAEL CAPUTO: I’ve been kind of parting ways with some of the Republican consulting class in Washington now for quite some time. I really believe that the vote that the voters make on November 6 is going to boil down to: If they vote for a Republican member of the House of Representatives, they’re going to vote against impeachment, and if they vote for a Democratic member of the House of Representatives or a challenger, they’re voting for impeachment. This is all about impeachment.

POPPY HARLOW: You think that’s all it’s about?

MICHAEL CAPUTO: It always has been.

POPPY HARLOW: That’s all it’s about?

MICHAEL CAPUTO: I think it always has been. And, in fact, with this one charge that Cohen has made apparently at the president, we know that they have enough to do it.

POPPY HARLOW: OK.

MICHAEL CAPUTO: So it’s about impeachment in November.

POPPY HARLOW: I gotta go. Quick yes or no to this: Is the president closer to impeachment today than he was 48 hours ago?

MICHAEL CAPUTO: I believe so.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Ron Fein, can you respond to what a former Trump adviser said in the interview?

RON FEIN: Well, look, people have a lot of different motivations for voting, but I think that the issue of impeachment is going to be on the ballot. And whether that’s Democrats or Republicans, people are looking to hold the president to account for what he’s done.

And as Representative Green has said, this is not just about the plea that Michael Cohen entered. Trump has been violating the Constitution since literally the day he took office, when he was violating the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution, which are anti-corruption provisions, because he takes payments, through his businesses, from foreign governments. And because he was allowed to get away with that, because Congress has done nothing about it since the moment he took office, he has learned the lesson of impunity, that he can get away with more and more, including directing law enforcement to prosecute and harass his political adversaries and his critics, including obstructing justice, including undermining the freedom of the press by trying to use the levers of government to punish critical media.

So, impeachment is high crimes and misdemeanors. Some of those will be criminal offenses, like the one that Michael Cohen has implicated Trump in. Others are abuses of power and of office, that may or may not also be statutory crimes. But as we lay out in the book, Trump has already accumulated a record that justifies immediate impeachment hearings. We shouldn’t need to wait for the election. We should be starting now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Ron Fein, at the same time—

REP. AL GREEN: May I say amen to what he just said?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes.

REP. AL GREEN: If I may, I’d like to say amen.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Fein, I want to ask you a question about what else is developing at this point. On Tuesday, you have the guilty pleas and the guilty verdicts against Trump’s former lawyer and his former campaign chair. But at the same time, you have this revving-up for the hearings, the confirmation hearings, for Judge Kavanaugh to become a Supreme Court justice. You wrote a piece in Newsweek_, you co-authored it, “Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation must be stopped until Mueller’s investigation is complete.” That’s not the direction that the Senate is going in right now, though many Democrats are calling for it. Explain the significance of what’s taking place right now, before the November election.

RON FEIN: Well, I think that Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings do need to be put on pause. And that’s for two reasons. The first is that the president should not be able to nominate and have confirmed any justice to the Supreme Court while he’s under these types of investigations, because any justice that he would nominate would be in a position to hear cases that would directly affect the president’s own criminal liability and perhaps impeachment, as well—for example, whether the president can be compelled to testify or even to speak to investigators if he refuses a subpoena. And that is particularly true for Brett Kavanaugh, because he has gone on record saying that the president, a sitting president, can’t even be investigated, because it would interfere too much with his time. So, the Senate needs to put those hearings on pause, wait for criminal investigations to play out, wait for impeachment proceedings to play out. And then, after all of that has been resolved, then and only then should the Senate begin to reconsider a nominee for the Supreme Court.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you lay out what you believe the articles of impeachment should be, Ron Fein?

RON FEIN: In the book, we identified eight. And since then, we’ve identified two more, because even though the book was released just a week ago, the finishing of the manuscript happened, and then Trump keeps committing more offenses.

But the very first one, as I mentioned, was violating the Foreign Emoluments and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution. This is something that the Framers of the Constitution identified as an impeachable offense in the constitutional debates. And there’s really no dispute that Trump is violating it. So, the fact that Congress hasn’t taken action since day one is a travesty. We also have identified two grounds that do overlap with the Mueller investigation, as well as a number that don’t. And it’s important to note that the emoluments clauses are not part of the Mueller investigation. Mueller is not looking into them. They’re not criminal proceedings. They’re not part of the scope of his appointment. We’re not going to learn anything about emoluments from Robert Mueller.

We are going to possibly learn more from the Mueller investigation about two other grounds. One is the extent to which Trump was involved in conspiring to solicit help from a foreign government during the 2016 election, which is a violation of federal campaign finance law and a serious threat to our democratic institutions, and also the extent to which he obstructed justice by working to frustrate and impede the investigations into himself and some of his associates. Now, what we’ll learn from the Mueller investigation may be some internal discussions, but the public evidence that’s already out there, which we’ve laid out in the book, is already enough for Congress to conclude that Trump has worked to obstruct justice.

We’ve also identified Trump’s directing law enforcement to prosecute political adversaries and critics as a ground for impeachment. That was part of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. And as Representative Green has said, advocating illegal violence and undermining equal protection of the laws has been a constant theme of the Trump presidency. He urged police to be rough with suspects, and he gave aid and comfort to neo-Nazis and white supremacists after Charlottesville. And in addition to that, we’ve also identified undermining freedom of the press via his constant attacks on the press, and not just words, but also use of the levers of government, as a ground for impeachment.

Now, since the book came out, we’ve identified two more. One is cruel and unconstitutional treatment of migrant children and their families. And the most recent one is what just happened with Michael Cohen, which is we now have enough evidence to tie Trump to violating federal campaign finance law, conspiring to do so, by paying hush money to silence his former mistresses in order to influence the 2016 election.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Representative Green, I’d like to get your comment, as well, on Brett Kavanaugh’s forthcoming confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justice. What do you think should happen there? And what are the potential rulings, the issues that he’ll be ruling on, if he is made Supreme Court justice, that directly pertain to Trump?

REP. AL GREEN: Well, I think it’s very likely that he’ll have to rule on the president’s impeachment, because I’m confident that it will happen. It’s just a matter of time. The country is not going to tolerate this kind of behavior emanating from the presidency. So I think that he may have to rule on some issues related to this. And I think he’s already indicated that he is adverse to having the president—a president investigated. He seems to think that while the president’s in office, the president is totally immune to any sort of judicial scrutiny. And that’s unfortunate. But I do believe that he should not be appointed currently. I think there should have a time for us to consider these other options associated with the presidency. And after that, maybe we can move forward. But he is currently the person that the president would have there, ostensibly to be a great justice, but covertly, it appears, to support him in a time of need as it relates to impeachment.

Finally, I would say this: I’m very disappointed in the Senate. I’m disappointed in the way they have approached not only this nomination, but a previous nomination. The Merrick Garland seat was hijacked. And there has to be some justice accorded the country for what happened to Merrick Garland. I’m opposed to moving forward because of that circumstance, as well. It’s time for us to come to some conclusion as to how we will consistently handle these judicial nominations. The Senate has changed the rules when it benefits the party that’s in power. That’s not just.

And finally, if I may add this. We have a Constitution that shows us the way to deal with these circumstances. It really now is about will. Will we have the will to do what we know the Framers of the Constitution intended? And if somebody is interested, read Federalist 65. Read the words of Alexander Hamilton. It was concluded that this would be a time of great turmoil, that parties would become recalcitrant, that it would be difficult to do, but that it was something that should be done if we find that a president seeks to be beyond justice—not in those words, but that’s the essence of Federalist 65.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us. Congressman Al Green, Democrat from Houston, the first to openly introduce articles of impeachment on the floor of the House of Representatives against President Trump. And we want to thank Ron Fein, legal director at Free Speech for People. His new book, written with John Bonifaz and Ben Clements, is called The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the sole African-American dissenting voice on the North Carolina Historical Commission that voted yesterday to keep three Confederate monuments on the Capitol grounds in Raleigh, just two days after students toppled Silent Sam, a Confederate monument on the grounds of the University of North Carolina. Stay with us.

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