The Hatch Act applies to Congress
US President Trump before congressional elections : Is the White House ready for a defensive battle?
There are less than three weeks to the US midterm elections. On November 6, the Americans decide on the composition of the House of Representatives in Washington and elect a third of the senators. At the moment it looks like the opposition Democrats could get a majority in the House of Representatives, but probably not in the Senate. But, even if they have the majority in one of the two chambers of congress in the future, they can make US President Donald Trump uncomfortable.
With a majority in the House, the Democrats would take control of all committees, including those investigating Trump's Russia affair. You could go ahead with the slow investigation, summon witnesses, and get documents. They could also use possible conflicts of interest Trump or allegations of sexual harassment against the president for new investigations. Last but not least, they could initiate impeachment proceedings against the president.
Under the Constitution, a US president can only be removed from office by Congress. There is also the impeachment procedure. The constitution names "treason, bribery or other serious crimes and misdemeanors" as reasons for this. The House of Representatives initiates the process, the first steps are taken in the Justice Committee. In the end, the entire chamber passes a list of charges by a simple majority and forwards it to the Senate, which has the function of a court.
The chairman of the Supreme Court directs the proceedings; a conviction must ultimately be approved by two-thirds of the senators present. No US president has yet been removed from office. Republicans currently have a slim majority in the Senate, and they are loyal to Trump, as just confirmed the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. A two-thirds majority against Trump is therefore unlikely. But: The investigations alone could largely paralyze government action - if, for example, one employee after the other is summoned. While those affected are preparing for their testimony, they come to little else.
"The White House then no longer works optimally, the legislative process is neglected. Morality is suffering, and all energy is flowing into the current crisis," the news site "Axios" quoted former President Barack Obama's legal advisor, Neil Eggleston. Democrats are also threatening Judge Kavanaugh's impeachment, which could also tie up additional forces.
White House preparations
The White House is arming itself. According to "Axios" there will be a meeting of senior staff at the end of October. "In a situation like this, it is important that the experts in the various authorities network," a former White House employee under Obama told Tagesspiegel. It would make sense for the legal advisor to assemble a team of experienced people to coordinate everything. "New lawyers may be hired for this, who already have experience from work in previous governments and with investigations by Congress," said the ex-employee, who himself worked legally for the White House. In addition, the government employees would once again be specially trained about the steps of the "Hatch Act" so as not to give new fodder for additional investigations.
The "Hatch Act" prohibits government employees from becoming politically active. Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway was already in trouble because of it. In two TV appearances in her official advisory role, she is said to have promoted the choice of Republican Roy Moore. The outgoing UN ambassador Nikki Haley was also warned in 2017 when she forwarded a corresponding Trump tweet. Trump himself, his deputy and certain members of the government are excluded.
Trump's legal team
Ironically, Trump had only announced the imminent departure of his legal advisor a few weeks ago. Earlier it became known that Don McGahn had worked closely with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team for months. McGahn had organized the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh as the last major act. On Wednesday the time had come: McGahn finished his work for the American president. His successor will soon have to be prepared for a lot of work - and for tough attacks from the opposition. Trump has chosen the Washington lawyer Pat Cipollone. Cipollone previously worked for the Ministry of Justice and - particularly helpful - already for Trump's lawyers in matters of Russia investigations. Trump's personal lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani, are said to have approved the personnel. According to Obama's ex-employee, Cipollone's urgent task could now be to reorganize the structures "with a fresh look" and to align them so that Congress is now taking a particularly close look.
The fact that Trump is always upset about the Mueller investigation poses a danger. He does this in interviews, on Twitter and in conversations with employees. From their side, it is said that he just can't help but talk to everyone about it he comes across. Some should therefore deliberately avoid him when there is bad news about the Russia affair - all discussions could lead to further legal problems.
Many observers also believe it is increasingly likely that Trump will fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions - the head of the house overseeing the Mueller investigation - after the congressional election. Whether he dares to fire Mueller himself remains to be seen. When he planned to do so at the beginning of the year, McGahn is said to have dissuaded him - also because he threatened to resign.
The Russia affair
Mueller is investigating Moscow's influence on the 2016 election and the possible cooperation between Trump's team and Russian authorities. According to US intelligence and the FBI, the Russians are campaigning to undermine American confidence in the democratic electoral process and to prevent Hillary Clinton. Russian President Vladimir Putin denies meddling in the American election campaign.
President Trump attacks the investigators time and time again and speaks of a "witch hunt". So far there is no evidence to support the suspicion that his people made a pact with the Russians to win the election. Not even for the thesis that the Kremlin has something in hand against Trump. Since the US president still refuses to publish his tax return, there is still a suspicion that he made himself susceptible to blackmail during his time as a real estate entrepreneur, for example by laundering Russian money.
State of the investigation
Mueller has already indicted 30 individuals and three companies. Above all, he is investigating Russia's social media campaign, possible contacts in Trump's environment, whether he was hindering the judiciary, for example when he fired FBI chief James Comey, and his business, which could be linked to Russia. Trump has not ruled out being interrogated by Mueller. His lawyers wouldn't like it that much, also because of his unpredictability. Instead, they are already preparing answers to written questions from the special investigator, according to CNN.
Trump's ex-election campaign manager Paul Manafort has been in custody since June and faces several years in prison, including for tax and banking fraud, money laundering, false statements, manipulation and criminal conspiracy. He pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the judiciary. Among other things, Manafort took part in a meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016, at which incriminating material against Hillary Clinton was said to have been discussed. Trump's son Donald junior, son-in-law Jared Kushner and influential Russians were also present. Trump claims not to have known about the meeting.
Manafort's longtime business partner Rick Gates, whom he took with him as vice president of the Trump campaign, has confessed to helping with Manafort's tax fraud - and to keeping the existence of foreign accounts a secret. He admits he was involved in a US fraud conspiracy and lied to the FBI. Trump's former national security advisor Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, his foreign policy advisor during the election campaign, are also cooperating. In the Flynn case, who had resigned because of too close contacts with Russia, a verdict is due to be made at the end of November. Papadopoulos is said to have spoken to foreign diplomats about incriminating material against Clinton. Whether Trump knew about it is the subject of the investigation.
Another area of investigation is Michael Cohen, once Trump's personal lawyer. He, too, has pleaded guilty to violating campaign funding laws, among other things. For example, he paid hush money to former Trump affairs. In court, he testified that he acted on behalf of Trump, who wanted to prevent damage to the company's image during the election campaign. The President claims to have found out about the payments later. If Cohen can prove his thesis, it could theoretically lead to impeachment proceedings.
Trump is also at risk from Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, who should know everything about Trump's finances. According to the Wall Street Journal, he has been given immunity if he testifies. Here, too, it is about the hush money.
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