Donald Trump’s multiple abuses of office are more serious than those even of Richard Nixon, and Democrats must trigger their effort to impeach him before the end of the year, a former top Republican administration lawyer has claimed.
Richard Painter, who served as an ethics lawyer to the administration of George W Bush but who quit the party after it moved sharply to the right, claims Mr Trump’s offences are unique even when considered against the many misdeeds of his predecessors.
“President Trump has violated the constitution in numerous ways, including taking profits and benefits from foreign governments. He’s obstructed justice, as outlined in the second part of Robert Mueller’s report,” Mr Painter told The Independent in an interview in Minneapolis, following the president’s recent rally in the city.
“He encouraged the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election and a number of his compatriots collaborated with the Russians. And even though that was not criminally charged, that was a serious matter.”
He added: “Now he’s doing it again – trying to get Ukraine to come up with dirt on his political opponents. It goes on and on. He’s attacked the free press with language that is really quite horrific. This president is guilty of multiple high crimes and misdemeanours, and needs to be impeached.”
When House speaker Nancy Pelosi last month announced a formal impeachment investigation of Mr Trump after a whistleblower complaint emerged accusing the president of seeking to pressure the leader of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, the White House sought to dismiss it as nothing more than a “witch-hunt” and refused to co-operate.
Mr Trump made the same point at an election rally in this city, during which he also attacked local congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and claimed Minneapolis had accepted too many Somali refugees.
“They know they can’t win the 2020 election, so they’re pursuing the insane impeachment witch-hunt,” he told supporters.
Mr Painter, who currently serves as vice-chair of a government accountability watchdog, claimed the president’s wrongdoings went beyond those even of Richard Nixon, one of just four US presidents to be subjected to the threat of impeachment, and who resigned before congress could oust him.
The lawyer, who last year failed in a bid to win a Senate seat in Minnesota, said both Mr Trump and Mr Nixon were guilty of several offences, including the obstruction of justice.
“The evidence against Donald Trump at this point is overwhelming. I would say far stronger than the evidence against Nixon,” he said.
“What we did not have with Richard Nixon that we have with Donald Trump is efforts to persuade a foreign power to interfere in our election, to dig up dirt on our opponents.”
He added: ‘Richard Nixon did not do that. Richard Nixon was a crook but at least we were confident he was our crook, as opposed to working with foreign governments against his fellow Americans.”
Supporters of the president have said unlike a number of his predecessors, Mr Trump has sought to keep Americans out of foreign wars, especially in the Middle East. While Mr Trump was widely criticised over his decision to pull US troops out of northeast Syria and permit Turkey to launch a military assault on Kurdish fighters who had previously been allies, the president campaigned to bring home US soldiers.
Mr Painter said it was possible to go back through American history and criticise the policies and actions of Mr Trump’s 44 predecessors, including Mr Bush’s decision to invade Iraq based on false evidence of weapons of mass destruction, Barack Obama’s controversial use of drone strikes in places such as Pakistan, and the decisions that plunged the country into the Vietnam war.
“We can go back through American history and find examples of bad history and bad policies,” he said. “But none of that excuses Donald Trump. He is the only president I know of to ask foreign countries to dig up dirt on his political opponents to interfere in American elections.”
Mr Painter said given most of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates had backed calls to impeach the president, it was essential the party moved forward promptly.
He said the house should set out formal articles of impeachment before the end of the year to give time for the Senate to consider the matter in the spring. If it was left later than that, it would look like it was intended to interfere with the election.
He added: “If Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats don’t impeach him, Trump would ridicule his opponent in the debate stage and could very well win a second term.”