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Commentary: Trump must liquidate, or risk impeachment

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FILE - In this Sept. 21, 2016 file photo Laborers' International Union of North America members and Culinary Union members protest outside of the Trump International hotel in Las Vegas. Inflamed by Trump's candidacy, organized labor groups including the heavily immigrant Culinary Union are in the thick of an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign in Nevada. The election comes just as the Culinary Union engages in a labor dispute with management at Trump's Las Vegas hotel, adding more ammunition to their campaign against him. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

President-elect Donald Trump needs to understand something sooner rather than later: He walks into office in greater danger of imminent impeachment than any president in recent history. Most presidents command the almost unconditional loyalty of members of Congress from their own party and thus have a cadre of votes against impeachment they can count on in the absence of truly shocking behavior. Additionally, the opposition party is generally very hesitant to engage in impeachment proceedings because, as the 1990s demonstrated, impeachment proceedings impose their own political costs.

Trump enjoys none of these benefits, politically speaking. As we have already seen from their public pronouncements, Democrats view Trump as an illegitimate president beginning on day one and will welcome even the flimsiest pretext to remove him from office.

More importantly, even though Republicans in Congress — led by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — are saying all the right things right now, Trump should realize that he will never be one of “them.” Not in the same way that Vice President-elect Mike Pence is. If you polled Republican members of Congress, fully 90 percent of them would at least privately prefer to have Pence as president over Trump. And that is a dangerous dynamic for a president-elect to step into.

A remarkable number of voters were willing to forgive some truly astonishing behavior on Trump’s part for the sake of keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House. Trump should not assume he will be able to survive a majority vote in the House in the same way that he survived the general election.

And Trump has a glaring problem on day one. I am not talking about anything pertaining to Trump University or any of the other attacks on Trump that failed to bring him down during the election. I am talking about Trump’s failure to liquidate his business assets, and the political and legal trouble it will inevitably cause.

Removing him from office will probably never happen, but impeachment is very much on the table. I'm not saying Trump should be impeached; I'm merely predicting that he will.

Obviously, as it has been pointed out a number of times, there is nothing that legally requires Trump to divest his business interests. But the specific nature of Trump’s businesses virtually requires it for him to survive a full term as president. Trump either runs or has lent his name to a series of luxury accommodation businesses that foreign lobbyists and diplomats are already lining up to patronize in order to ingratiate themselves with the president-elect.

As anyone who paid attention to the Clinton Foundation scandals this year knows, this sort of arrangement virtually begs for very legitimate questions about pay-to-play and corruption. And with foreign dignitaries openly telling reporters that they are patronizing Trump’s properties for the express purpose of ingratiating themselves with Trump, the problem promises to get immediately worse for Trump than it ever got for Clinton. Hillary, after all, was running a charity that at least ostensibly used some portion of its proceeds for charitable purposes; Trump’s business ventures, on the other hand, serve the purpose exclusively of lining Trump’s pockets.

The potential for both political and legal issues arising from this fact is truly immense. Federal statutes regarding the criminalization of bribery and/or pay-to-play are quite broad. A halfway competent politically ambitious prosecutor could cobble together a case against Trump for less serious apparent conflicts of interest than those that have already been reported in the news.

And fair or not, Trump has to assume that he is going to face a great many politically motivated prosecutors over the next four years — and that quite a few of them will be Democrats who have seats in Congress. The spectacle of lobbyists and foreign diplomats patronizing Trump properties and openly bragging that they are doing it to influence Trump is both horrible optics and fraught with legal risk for Trump.

Trump really has only one solution at this point: He needs to liquidate his business holdings completely. Turning over a large measure of control to his children — who, by all accounts, will likely be in extremely regular contact with him throughout his presidency — is a wholly inadequate remedy or protection against impeachment. By all means, Trump’s children should continue to run their own business ventures that they have started in their own names (like Ivanka Trump’s fashion lines and the Eric Trump Foundation), but Trump has to wash his hands of control of his luxury real estate properties — and the sooner, the better.

Trump came to political prominence by promising that he was the only politician who could not be bought and that he did not need the money of the rich and powerful lobbyists who have corrupted American government. Whenever one of his opponents pointed out that he had been a beneficiary of that same political corruption, he admitted that he had aggressively used his wealth and influence to take advantage of a rigged system for the benefit of his companies. But, he promised — to great applause — that now he works for the American people.

It is time for Trump to put his money where his mouth is. He needs to liquidate his interests and put the resulting proceeds in a truly blind trust — i.e., one that is not managed by his children. He needs to send a clear signal to special interests, lobbyists, and foreign diplomats that they cannot curry favor with him by purchasing vacation packages at hotels and golf courses that bear his name.

He will, at the same time, be doing his current employees an enormous favor, as he will remove any motivation for the increasingly hostile liberal protesters across the country to congregate in front of and around his hotels and golf courses, deterring potential customers.

He needs to live up to the promise he made that he would be incorruptible by the rich and famous and that he would work only for the under-represented in America.

Because if he doesn’t, his presidency might not last an entire term.

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