Donald Trump Impeachment

What could Trump be charged with after impeachment?

The House has impeached president Trump a second time this week. Once tried in the Senate, other criminal charges could then be brought against him.

What could Trump be charged with after impeachment?
CARLOS BARRIA REUTERS

Donald Trump on Wednesday became the only US president in history to be impeached twice. Following a deadly insurrection on the evening of 6 January by his supporters, the House of Representatives brought and passed an article of impeachment against the president for a second time in his one and only term.

The article of impeachment charges Donald Trump with “inciting violence against the government of the United States” in relation to his part in encouraging supporters to rise up against the democratic process, under the misguided belief that there had been foul play in the presidential election.

Last Wednesday, as Joe Biden’s victory in the November election was being ratified in Congress, a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building, resulting in five deaths and parts of the building looted and vandalised.

The first time Donald Trump was impeached, in September 2019, two charges were brought against the president; the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The charges were related to a phone call Trump had with the recently elected President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, in July 2019, in which Trump made a request for the president to investigate the energy company, Burisma, which Joe Biden’s son worked for. In exchange for this, the US leader would agree to a highly prized face-to-face meeting between the two presidents.

Following trial in the Senate, Trump was acquitted of both charges in December 2019.

How likely is it Trump will be convicted this time?

The US constitution provides barely any detail on what is considered an “impeachable offence”, bar one line, “The president, vice-president and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours.

To be convicted in the Senate, the impeached individual must be found guilty by a two-thirds majority (67 of the 100 members). With their victories in the Georgia Senate runoff election the Democrats now have 50 Senators. At least 17 Republicans would have to join all 50 of them for Trump to be convicted. Ten GOP representatives joined all 222 Democrats in the impeachment vote Wednesday. 

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has now confirmed that the Senate will not convene in an emergency hearing to begin the Senate trial for Trump’s impeachment. This means that the earliest the trial would start would be 19 January. Therefore the impeachment proceedings threaten to hang over the beginning of Biden’s term.

In a statement on Wednesday night, Biden said: “I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation.

What could Trump be charged with after impeachment trial ends?

Once Trump is no longer president, no matter whether he is convicted or aquitted a second time of his impeachment, he will no longer have presidential immunity to civil or federal charges against him. There are a number in the pipeline.

New York hush-money case

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who enforces New York state laws, has been conducting a criminal investigation into Trump and the Trump Organization for more than two years. The probe originally focused on hush money payments that Trump's former lawyer and self-described fixer Michael Cohen paid before the 2016 election to two women who said they had sexual encounters with Trump, which the president has denied.

Now, more recent court documents suggest that Vance is investigating "possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization," Trump's family business, which could include falsifying business records, insurance fraud and tax fraud.

Federal tax evasion charges

Trump could conceivably face a criminal prosecution brought by the US Department of Justice, led by a new US Attorney General. Some legal experts have said Trump could face federal income tax evasion charges, pointing to a New York Times report that Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in both 2016 and 2017.

'You've got the stuff that has come out of the New York Times that has all kind of indicia of tax fraud,' Nick Akerman, a lawyer at Dorsey & Whitney and a former federal prosecutor. Akerman cautioned that it is not possible to know for certain until seeing all of the evidence. Trump has rejected findings from the Times report, tweeting that he had paid many millions of dollars in taxes but was entitled to depreciation and tax credits.

Such a prosecution would be deeply controversial and the Justice Department could decide charging Trump is not in the public interest even if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Biden has approached that question very carefully, saying he would not interfere with his Justice Department's judgment.

Biden told National Public Radio in August that pursuing criminal charges against his predecessor would be 'a very, very unusual thing and probably not very - how can I say it? - good for democracy.'

Summer Zervos sexual assault

Trump also faces a lawsuit by Summer Zervos, a 2005 contestant on Trump’s reality television show “The Apprentice,” who says Trump kissed her against her will at a 2007 meeting and later groped her at a hotel. After Trump called Zervos a liar, she sued him for defamation. Trump said he is immune from the lawsuit because he is president.

The case has been on hold while a New York state appeals court reviewed a March 2019 decision that Trump had to face the case while he is in office. Trump's immunity defence would no longer stand once he is out of office.

There are other civil cases also pending against the president, none of which would result in jail time if convicted, but could amount to financial penalties.