Law Professor Says Trump Could Be Impeached Over “University” if Elected

Sunday, September 25, 2016
Donald J. Trump--Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

By Bianca Bruno, Courthouse News Service

A University of Utah law professor believes the fraud allegations against Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s now-defunct real estate school could constitute impeachable offenses if he is elected Nov. 8.

Christopher Peterson released a 23-page academic paper (pdf) this week outlining how the fraud and racketeering claims in three lawsuits against Trump University, if proven, would rise to the level of impeachable offenses under the Constitution.

Two of the class actions against Trump and Trump University are being litigated in San Diego federal court. The plaintiffs in Low v. Trump University and Cohen v. Trump rely on essentially the same fraud and false advertising claims, with the Cohen case claiming a violation of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The RICO claim triples damages and attorney fees if Trump is found to have knowingly defrauded Trump University students.

The other case against Trump University was filed by New York’s Attorney General.

Students in the two class actions say the word “university” made them to believe the school was accredited. They also say the school misrepresented that instructors were “handpicked” by Trump himself.

Some students paid upwards of $35,000 to attend the Trump University seminar classes and get hands-on mentorship and guidance from the instructors Trump purportedly “handpicked” to dish out his real estate investing secrets.

Peterson said Trump University’s advertising campaign capitalized on the businessman’s “name recognition” and instructors who “boasted of having close personal relationships with Trump.” The professor detailed the ways the Trump University seminars were focused on “up-selling” and capitalizing on the emotions of the attendees. Staff members also ranked attendees based on their liquid assets so they could more effectively sell expensive “Trump Elite” packages priced at up to $35,000.

Consumers filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau, law enforcement offices in at least 11 states, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, according to Peterson. The students said they did not receive meaningful real estate mentoring, were advised to engage in illegal behavior and were blamed for their inability to make money in the real estate market.

In arguing the legality of impeaching a President Trump, Peterson points to a specific article in the Constitution which states the president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The authority to impeach a sitting president rests with Congress, with an affirmative vote required from at least two-thirds of senators. The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court would preside over the trial.

The law professor argues fraud and racketeering would constitute impeachable “high crimes or misdemeanors.” He says while there may be public and political debate over what would constitute impeachable offenses, “the most plain” reading is simply that “impeachable behavior is only that which would subject an ordinary person to criminal indictment and prosecution.” He says the breadth of the phrase was intentional by the framers of the Constitution and “leaves much to the wisdom and judgment of the House of Representatives and Senate.”

Peterson says there is no “clear legal hurdle” that would prevent Congress from beginning impeachment proceedings, noting it would be “well within its legal rights to insist upon a president who is not a fraudster or a racketeer.”

Peterson also argues impeachable offenses apply not only to those committed while in office, but to pre-incumbency conduct, especially in light of the current unorthodox race for the Oval Office. He says impeachment for conduct before being elected president is rare, but that may be because voters don’t typically vote for candidates accused of “high crimes or misdemeanors.”

But Peterson also acknowledges that the strongest argument against impeaching Trump would be the collective voice of an electorate who, despite the accusations, chose to elect Trump to the highest office of the United States. An election win for Trump would not make him untouchable, though, as voters’ own elected representatives could move to kick him out.

According to Peterson, Trump’s attempt to “publicly misrepresent the facts and circumstances surrounding his alleged fraud and racketeering” should also be weighed when deciding if impeachment is the correct action to take. Trump has “deflected blame” and attempted to “tarnish the reputations” of those former students involved in the cases against him, and most notably criticized the judge presiding over the two San Diego cases — U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel — by attacking Curiel’s Mexican heritage when the judge ruled against him.

“If Trump had apologized and accepted responsibility for the alleged fraud and racketeering, the argument that the election served as an effective referendum on the appropriateness of impeachment would be more persuasive,” Peterson wrote. “As it stands, Trump’s own representations regarding the case may have distorted the public view of whether Trump committed fraud or racketeering.”

Looking to the effects of the Trump campaign on American politics, Peterson said Trump has “planted to seeds for a weakened presidency.” He also points out that while Trump has threatened to commit “high crimes” if elected, including ordering the murder of innocent family members of terrorism suspects and torturing suspected criminal defendants, he has already committed crimes against American consumers.

“Unlike his promised crimes yet to come, the illegal acts in Trump’s high-pressure wealth seminars have already occurred,” Peterson wrote.


To Learn More:

Lawsuit against Trump “University” Reinstated by Appeals Court (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Florida Attorney General Abandoned Trump Fraud Lawsuit after Soliciting and Receiving Trump Donation (by Jeff Horwitz, Gary Fineout and Michael Biesecker, Associated Press)

As Nominee, Trump Employs Code Words to Fuel Racial Animosity, Say Observers (by Russell Contreras and Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press)


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