ABC's Stephanopoulos: Trump Civil Suit Conviction Could Be 'Impeachable'

ABC's George Stephanopoulos raised the prospect of the impeachment of President-Elect Trump on Thursday's Good Morning America, as the morning show spotlighted the multiple civil lawsuits against the billionaire. The former Clinton administration communications director underlined that "if he takes the risk of going to trial and he's convicted, that could be seen as an impeachable offense." ABC legal analyst Dan Abrams corrected Stephanopoulos's faulty take: "You can't impeach someone for stuff that they did before they became president." [video below]

The anchor first brought on correspondent Brian Ross, who reported on the several legal cases involving Mr. Trump:

BRIAN ROSS: While the President-Elect begins to make his plans to run the country, his lawyers will be in court today in San Diego — dealing with one of the dozens of active lawsuits against him involving allegations of fraud, sexual harassment, and failure to pay his bills....Students who paid a $35,000 fee claim the now president-elect committed fraud when he falsely told them he had personally selected the faculty. The actual trial is set to begin at the end of the month — presided over by the San Diego federal judge Trump accused during the campaign of bias because he is of Mexican heritage....

In addition to the Trump University case....there are at least 30 other significant cases, in which the President-Elect is being sued or suing for issues that happened before he was elected....during the campaign, the famously-litigious candidate threatened to bring his own set of lawsuits against the women who claimed he had sexually assaulted them....

Trump's business interests may also create conflicts for the soon-to-be president....Trump has had extensive ties with several Russian oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin. He and his children have sought investments with controversial overseas figures. And ethics experts say his plan to let his children run his business empire, as though it were a blind trust, is not blind at all.

And then, there are the questions of the President-Elect and the IRS. Mr. Trump has said his tax returns are being audited by the IRS, as President Trump will elect and select the new head of the agency — even as his employees are pouring over how he managed, by his own admission, to avoid paying any tax at all — any federal income tax at all — over the last two decades.

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Stephanopoulos then turned to Abrams, and contended that "there would likely be a lot of pressure on Mr. Trump to settle" the Trump University cases. The analyst responded by giving some historical background on past civil lawsuits involving presidents: "Remember: this happened with the Paula Jones lawsuit and the Bill Clinton case. The U.S. Supreme Court actually weighed in on this, and said that a sitting president is not immune from a civil lawsuit."

The ABC journalist followed up by giving his "impeachable offense" statement. Abrams countered that "impeachable offenses are only for something you do while you're president. So, you can't impeach someone for stuff that they did before they became president. So, if he is president and something happens, that's a different story from something that happened before he became president." Stephanopoulos ended the segment by noting that "on the issue of his businesses, the President actually isn't bound by any conflict of interest laws."

The full transcript of the Dan Abrams segment from ABC's Good Morning America on November 10, 2016:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring in our chief legal analyst, Dan Abrams, for more on this. Let's start out with the lawsuit in court — in court today. There would likely be a lot of pressure on Mr. Trump to settle this.

DAN ABRAMS: Well, that — that's right, because remember: he doesn't have to actually be in court for a civil case. But when he's deposed, or he has to testify, he has to show up. And there is precedent for this. Remember: this happened with the Paula Jones lawsuit and the Bill Clinton case. The U.S. Supreme Court actually weighed in on this, and said that a sitting president is not immune from a civil lawsuit—

STEPHANOPOULOS: (unintelligible) settlement.

ABRAMS: Correct — but the Court specifically said, the courts have to work around the scheduling aspects of a president. So, there is a possibility that a court could say, you know what? Because the scheduling would be so hard, let's postpone this. Let's delay this. But I think there's going to be a lot of pressure to continue this. But Trump only would need to be there when he's testifying.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's the distraction issue, but there's also if — if he takes the risk of going to trial and he's convicted, that could be seen as an impeachable offense.

ABRAMS: Well, no — I don't think so. Impeachable offenses are only for something you do while you're president. So, you can't impeach someone for stuff that they did before they became president. So, if he is president and something happens, that's a different story from something that happened before he became president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And these issues of conflict of interest—

ABRAMS: And these are also civil — most of them — and so, we have to be careful in distinguishing between civil and criminal — although there are some criminal investigations as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And on the issue of his businesses, the President actually isn't bound by any conflict of interest laws.

ABRAMS: That's right — it's just more considered an ethical code that has been adhered to. But, boy, there are going to be a lot of questions to be asked when you talk about his family taking over his businesses, as to what relationship he is or isn't going to have with that business and what relationship that has with the government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. Dan Abrams, thanks very much.

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