The Constitution is Clear: Impeachment Hearings Now
Constitutional law and voting rights attorney John Bonifaz answers our questions about one of the most contentious topics today – whether, when, and how to impeach Donald Trump. Bonifaz is the president and co-founder of Free Speech for People, a non-partisan advocacy group for a new constitutional amendment to limit campaign spending and repeal Citizens United, and the author of Warrior-King: The Case for Impeaching George W. Bush. He is also the co-author of the January 2019 op-ed “Time to Impeach Donald Trump” with Representative Rashida Tlaib.
“Mr. Barr now the American people know that you are no different from Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne Conway or any of the other people who sacrifice their once decent reputation for the grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office.”
Sarah Kendzior: I'm Sarah Kendzior, a journalist, scholar and author of the essay collection “The View from Flyover Country.” My co-host is Andrea Chalupa, a writer, activist, and screenwriter of the upcoming journalistic thriller Mr. Jones.
Sarah Kendzior: We are Gaslit Nation, a podcast covering corruption in the Trump administration and the rise of autocracy around the world. For months, Andrea and I have been warning our audience that Robert Mueller is no savior, that William Barr is an Iran Contra cleanup guy hired to be Trump's personal attorney and exonerate him regardless of the extent of his crimes. And that impeachment of Donald Trump is both warranted and badly needed. We did a few episodes dedicated to impeachment, including our March episode “Impeach normalization” and our April episode “impeach the Nazi in Chief.” We urge you to check those episodes out, along with our recent two-part series on the Mueller Report. For years, Andrea and I have warned you that the GOP seeks to create a one-party state and that Trump is trying to build a dynastic kleptocracy. We warned you that checks and balances will not hold, that Trump's criminal activity and illicit ties to Russia go back decades, and that the GOP has been compromised. We warned Mueller and Congress that they needed to act quickly if they wanted to preserve the integrity of law. But they did not. And here we are at the early stages of authoritarianism. We wanted badly to be wrong, but after the brazen lawlessness displayed in the Barr hearings, people have no choice but to recognize that the U.S. is in a deep constitutional crisis. And now the calls for impeachment are growing once again. We decided it was time to bring on an expert on the impeachment process, attorney John Bonifaz, who also happens to be an expert on dark money, court packing, election integrity and more. In this interview he lays out the broader context of our political crisis, answers common questions about how impeachment works, and gives practical suggestions for what citizens can do to keep our democracy intact. So, without further ado, here is the Gaslit Nation interview with John Bonifaz.
Sarah Kendzior: John Bonifaz is an attorney and leading activist specializing in constitutional law and voting rights. He is the president and co-founder of Free Speech for People, a nonpartisan advocacy group for a new constitutional amendment to limit campaign spending and repeal the doctrine of corporate personhood otherwise known as Citizens United, which allows dark money fascism into our elections. Bonifaz was the lead attorney representing a coalition of American soldiers, their parents, and members of Congress and John Doe One versus President Bush, a case challenging the legality of Bush's invasion of Iraq. In January 2019, Bonifaz co-authored an op-ed for The Detroit Free Press with representative Rashida Tlaib called Now is the time to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump. He joins Gaslight nation to talk us through impeachment, how it works, what it is, what it isn't, and also the current outlook on our elections in 2020. So, welcome John Bonifaz. Thank you for joining us.
John Bonifaz: Thank you Sarah, it's an honor to be here.
Sarah Kendzior: So I want to start out by asking a general question because there's a lot of confusion these days about what exactly impeachment is and how it works. So can you just tell us that? What is impeachment and how does it work?
John Bonifaz: Yes. Impeachment is a power that we the people have in our constitution to remove an elected official of the government, including the president, when that person has abused the office and abused the public trust. And it's important to note that there is no requirement whatsoever that there be a conviction of a crime under the federal criminal code, or even an indictment issued before an impeachment process can begin. And this is the way we deal with those in power, including a president who would so trample on the Constitution and abuse the power of the office that we don't wait until another election, because the threat is to the republic itself, to the body politic and the view that the framers had is that there must be a power within the Constitution to protect the republic in that kind of moment. And that's the impeachment power.
Sarah Kendzior: Do you see this as a political or a partisan process or more of a constitutional duty?
John Bonifaz: It's absolutely a constitutional duty, it's a nonpartisan process. It's about defending and protecting our Constitution and our republic when we're faced with somebody in the Oval Office, or in another office, who so abuses the power of that office and abuses the public trust.
Sarah Kendzior: Right. And back in 2019, as I mentioned, you wrote that op ed with Rashida Tlaib, and there is a lot of enthusiasm at that time. You know right after the Dems taken the house to go forth with impeachment proceedings. That was tempered somewhat by Nancy Pelosi coming out and calling against it and now has been reinvigorated in light of the Mueller Report. So, taking all of these different developments into consideration, what are to you, what are some of the most compelling reasons to begin impeachment proceedings now?
John Bonifaz: First I want to be clear that the most compelling reason that we began with respect to this impeachment campaign at free speech for people was on the day the president took the oath of office, Donald Trump was refusing to divest from his business interests and placing himself on a collision course with the two anti corruption provisions of the Constitution: the foreign Emoluments Clause and the domestic Emoluments Clause. He's been treating the Oval Office as a profit making enterprise at the public expense. And so that's why we launched this campaign with Roots Action: Impeach Donald Trump Now on the day that he took the oath in January 2017 for his direct violations of the emoluments clauses. That's the first impeachable offense. But sadly, as we know, this president has committed multiple impeachable offenses since that day. And we now see the most recent one becoming even more in the news here with obstruction of justice. Although, it was clear to us when he fired the FBI Director James Comey that he had committed obstruction of justice. But the Mueller report lays out very clearly for the nation and for Congress that this president, but for being president, would be indicted in a criminal court for criminal charges of obstruction of justice. And the only reason why Mueller chose not to indict is because of a Department Justice Policy which claims that a sitting president cannot be indicted. But the fact is, that impeachment is not about again whether there is an indictment. Impeachment is about whether there's been abuse of power and that obstruction justice and repeated efforts to shut down the Mueller investigation demonstrate that this president has abused his power.
Sarah Kendzior: No, I agree. As I'm sure you know if you've heard from our show, that we've been thinking he's impeachable from day one. And I definitely encourage our audience to read the op-ed which listed some of those reasons for impeachment. Right now, I want to ask you some questions about the arguments we often hear against impeachment to get your answers since you have expertise on this topic and we often get this kind of blowback when we raise that argument. So my first question, to play devil's advocate in the most literal sense, what's the point of impeachment if it will inevitably fail in Mitch McConnell's Senate?
John Bonifaz: Well first I think that we can't be for sure that it will. But let's assume for the moment that it would. The fact is that members of the House of Representatives have a constitutional duty. They took the same oath to protect and defend the Constitution. They have a constitutional duty to move forward with impeachment proceedings now in the face of all that we know, the overwhelming evidence of the abuse of power this president has engaged in. Those charges ought to be issued. And the Senate must be forced to deal with them. You know, if we do not engage in this impeachment process, then we really are setting a very dangerous precedent for all future administrations that they can so defy the rule of law, so trample on our Constitution and take us down that road to totalitarianism, to an autocrat type situation. This is not what our Constitution is about. We're supposed to protect the checks and balances. We're supposed to protect the republic through the impeachment power. And when we have such flagrant abuses of power in front of us, we cannot say that well we're just going to kick the can down the road, and so called "impeach him at the ballot." That is not an acceptable response.
Sarah Kendzior: But what about if he does fail in the Senate, despite all of these reasons and rationales and Trump decides to use it against the Democrats in 2020. That's an argument we've been hearing a lot. What about that?
John Bonifaz: Well, we're again a nonpartisan organization. We're focused on standing up for our Constitution and our democracy. But I will say, that it is I think a mistake to assume that when the public understands the nature of the abuses that this president is committed and the impeachment process moves forward, that there's not going to be an education, even with the Senate supposedly acquitting him in a trial, that that education will take place. And that's what's critical for the nation to understand that we have a president whose so abusing his power. But ultimately, we have to put country over party here.
John Bonifaz: If we simply look at this from a political strategy standpoint, then we will effectively allow Donald Trump to hold the nation hostage and let us think that somehow an election is the way to resolve this. The second point on this, is that if we assume that the 2020 election is going to be free and fair, we're making a very dangerous assumption. This is the president who has shown his willingness to trample on our Constitution. What makes us think that he will treat the 2020 election in a free and fair manner, given what we know of what happened in 2016? So, I think that for all these reasons we have to move forward with an impeachment process. That's what Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib has sought to initiate with her resolution in the House of Representatives to start an impeachment inquiry, and the Senate needs to be forced to vote. As Senator Warren has said very eloquently, "Let every member of the house and let every member of the Senate be forced to vote on this question up or down do they condone this kind of behavior out of the Oval Office?"
Sarah Kendzior: Right. I agree with you, but we often hear this kind of blowback about divisiveness, about the need for bipartisan support going into the hearings. For example, that was one of Pelosi's rationales, that there couldn't be impeachment hearings until there is bipartisan and overwhelming evidence. If we're at the point where we're now having to worry for, very rational and legitimate reasons, about Trump not holding free and fair elections in 2020, when we're looking at all these unpunished policies before, is it possible to reach some kind of bipartisan consensus beforehand?
John Bonifaz: You know, I don't know in Washington whether it's possible but honestly that's not the standard that needs to be applied. When the impeachment process began in the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate era against then President Richard Nixon, there was no strong bipartisanship. Most Republicans stood by him. They stood by him all the way through into the summer of 1974. They stood by him even with the tapes that got revealed. Thirty percent of the public, according to polls when he took that famous helicopter ride after he resigned in August of 1974 and left the grounds of the White House, thirty percent still thought he should stay there and remain as president. So, the idea that we need strong bipartisanship before we even start an impeachment process would have meant that Nixon would never have faced an impeachment proceeding. That is not the standard to apply. The standard to apply is, are there impeachable offenses? Was there abuse of power? Was there abuse of the public trust? And if all those answers are yes, then Congress has a duty to act and move forward and not look at the question of "do we have a certain party onboard, the party the president represents?"
Sarah Kendzior: Why do you think that there has been this pushback against impeachment from representatives like Pelosi or Steny Hoyer or others who've come out against it in advance?
John Bonifaz: Well I think first of all, they draw the wrong historical lesson. They look at the Clinton impeachment process and they think that they don't want to go down the road where they argue Republicans ultimately got politically hurt by that, although it's important to note that Republicans ended up having a president from their party in the White House in 2000, leaving aside the question of whether he actually won the vote, even the Electoral College vote. But you know that being aside, the analogy is not to the Clinton impeachment process. That analogy must be to the Nixon impeachment process. This is far worse than Watergate. And ultimately, the country came together with the view and that what I mean came together, a majority of the country understood that keeping Richard Nixon in the Oval Office was a danger to the republic. And that's really what has to happen here. Impeachment hearings need to begin so the public can understand what's at stake. And you know members of Congress who are looking at polls, who are trying to take the temperature of this, pointing their fingers to the wind, that is not complying with their duty. Their duty is to look at the evidence. And the overwhelming evidence is that this president has no respect for the rule of law and abuses his power almost on a daily basis. You know you asked at the outset, what are the most important impeachable offenses? Some that don't even get covered by the Mueller report are just as outrageous, if not more, than what the Mueller report covers, including the unconstitutional imprisonment of children and families at the border, in violation of their due process rights, their Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment, his incitement of violence and undermining equal protection laws, giving aid and comfort to white supremacists and neo-Nazis. These too, are impeachable offenses and the Mueller Report doesn't cover them at all. And we've known this in the light of day for many months. So, this is why there must be an impeachment process that goes forward and we can't be looking at the polling on this to determine whether or not to start them.
Sarah Kendzior: I'm curious, why do you think there was so much focus on the Muller report as some kind of avenue to impeachment? When as you noted, all of these atrocities have been taking place in plain sight since he came into office and are atrocities that you can't just sit back and allow time to tick by while a child is snatched from their parents and abused. What is the rationale for the pace here?
John Bonifaz: I mean, I think, quite frankly, those in the leadership in both parties have looked at the Mueller Report as the basis by which they're claiming to make a decision. They've been quoted saying, "well we're going to see what's in the Mueller Report." And really, at the end of the day, those who ran in 2018 and claimed they wanted to place a check on this presidency, that check is the impeachment power. That check is not traditional oversight when we're dealing with a president who so abuses his power. It's the process of impeachment. And I think that many members of Congress, frankly, hid behind the Mueller investigation to claim that they were not going to take account for any of the impeachable offenses that were leading up to it, even outside the Mueller investigation mandate. And then now that the Mueller Report is out, and is so damning on the obstruction of justice front, and frankly, on the Russian interference front, they now then want to say, "Well, now we now we have to do our own investigation." To call all these witnesses under "abuse of power hearings" that they're calling them and determine what we're gonna do next.
John Bonifaz: No. We need to start a formal impeachment inquiry. The Mueller Report has been delivered. They said they needed that, and there's no more excuses. I think that we the people have the responsibility now to press our members of Congress to act and carry out their oath of office.
Sarah Kendzior: Can you explain what the difference is between traditional oversight hearings and "abuse of power" hearings, and an impeachment hearing?
John Bonifaz: I think that the additional oversight hearings really are designed to shine a light for the public to see what's happening with respect to a particular administration's actions, and to push back against administrations in a conventional moment in history, where the administration won't understand there's resistance in Congress. That's not what we're dealing with here. And so when we hear about all the committees in Congress in the House that are conducting these oversight hearings, they're acting as if we're in one of those conventional moments in history where this is the traditional response. That's not where we are. We are in a constitutional crisis. And that's the way they need to respond to it. It's a crisis for the checks and balances process, it's a crisis for the rule of law, and that is requiring the use of the impeachment process. So, a formal impeachment inquiry would not look solely at "is the administration conducting itself in a way that comports with the policies that Congress has laid out or answering questions properly from Congress?" No. The question before a formal impeachment inquiry is, "Has the president abused his power?" Has he engaged in impeachable offenses? Should charges be issued, articles of impeachment, and sent to the Senate for a trial? Those are the questions that need to be asked.
Sarah Kendzior: We're currently in a situation where multiple Republicans have been subpoenaed to appear at hearings. They're refusing to follow up on those subpoenas, they're refusing to follow the law or protocol in general. How would that affect impeachment hearings down the road? Like what if they just won't show up?
John Bonifaz: The third article of impeachment issued by the House Judiciary Committee against President Nixon was precisely around this issue, where Nixon was defying subpoenas, refusing to cooperate with Congress and undermining that check and balance of the independent branch of government, a co-equal branch of government. So this I think should be the final straw if there ever need to be, with respect to why Congress should start impeachment hearings. We know that there will now be defiance of these subpoenas, refusal to come before Congress to testify and answer these questions, and that ought to be the final reason why they need to start an impeachment process. And if these witnesses don't want to show up, move forward with the evidence you have. We already have a voluminous report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller that lays out clearly that this president repeatedly has obstructed justice, and that with respect to coordination with the Russian government, there's plenty of evidence to show that from an impeachment standard, he undermined his office and corruptly obtained the office. And that's important also for your listeners to know is that the impeachment process does not just cover the acts of abuse of power when you're in the office, it also covers if you've corruptly obtained that office. George Mason spoke about this clearly during the debate on the impeachment power. And so here we have a situation where what Robert Mueller's laid out is that, the president and his campaign were fully aware, fully aware, that they were engaged in distributing stolen material from a foreign power, illegally obtained and they went ahead and did it without calling the FBI, without saying "wait a minute, we shouldn't have this material." They went ahead and did it. And that level of coordination may not rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy that Robert Mueller was charged with determining. But it certainly rises to the level of impeachment.
Sarah Kendzior: I agree. You don't have to convince me. You know I still continue to hear this kind of pushback. And one other thing I've heard is, we've now started the process too late. I think Al Green actually was making a kind of sarcastic tweet about this, that back in 2017 people said it was too early. We had to give Trump a chance. Now we're in 2019, and there's the chance that if we do start impeachment hearings they may continue right up to the point of the election. Is that possible? And if it is, what effect would that have on the election? What would the country look like at that time?
John Bonifaz: Well I think that the impeachment process does not have to go for many many months. And I do think that an inquiry needs to be opened first and then a determination needs to be made whether articles of impeachment should be issued. But I don't think it needs to take place over the course of a year and a half. It can occur within a matter of months, with respect to the issuance of articles of impeachment. But I agree with Al Green, Congressman Al Green, who has been a champion on this a hero for standing up very early that we had plenty more evidence already, plenty of evidence to issue articles of impeachment before. But you know the fact is that whether or not it takes weeks or months or goes into the fall or winter of 2019, Congress needs to be pressed to start that process now and not to hide behind the notion that we're going to wait until November 2020 to so called "impeach him at the ballot."
John Bonifaz: That is not why we have elections. We don't have elections to address a direct and serious threat to our republic that happens a year and a half or two or three years before the election. We have elections to determine who shall govern in the next term. And to simply kick the can down the road and say well we're just going to deal with this direct threat, this ongoing and daily threat that we face in our country by waiting until November 2020, this person is too dangerous in the Oval Office to wait for that, and that process has to start now. It really, I think, comes down to whether we as a people can pressure our members of Congress to act. They need to hear from us. They need to understand that we demand this kind of accountability, and it's not enough to say well we're going to go ahead and impeach him at the ballot. There's no such thing. We don't hold elections for impeachment purposes.
Sarah Kendzior: And how would you recommend if a citizen did want to pressure their representatives, how would you recommend they go about doing that?
John Bonifaz: First, we would urge that they call their member of Congress, they write their member of Congress, and call upon them to co-sponsor Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib's resolution to start an impeachment inquiry, House Resolution two five seven. And there are now seven members of Congress, six with her, who are calling for this. So that's the first thing. The second thing they can do, is write a letter to the editor of their local newspaper urging that their member of Congress do this. The third, is they could share with their neighbors and their friends. If they're active on social media, share it there to spread the word and build further support for it. A a fourth thing is, an organization that we're partnering with, By The People, that's done very important work in demonstrating grassroots support for this. They're holding a national day of action on May 14th. They're urging people to join them in Washington to show that we the people are going to stand up and defend our democracy. And By The People has has a site where people can go to learn more about about that day of action and to sign up to take part in it.
Sarah Kendzior: Say this works and the House impeaches and the Senate does convict, do you think that Trump will leave office if he is impeached?
John Bonifaz: Well he may not leave willingly, and I think that's certainly an important question. But the power will then be with the federal marshals to remove him.
Sarah Kendzior: Clinton was impeached, and he didn't leave. And Nixon was about to be impeached and he resigned. Is there a legal procedure in place to actually force him to leave office? Because the impression I had, is that this was sort of more of a norm than a law.
John Bonifaz: Clinton was impeached but he wasn't convicted, and Nixon never faced a trial. But if the Senate were to convict and therefore say he must be removed, then the power would be with the federal marshals to actually physically remove him if he refused to leave. I mean this isn't a voluntary response, Presidents have when they've been convicted. And you're right that this might be the very first time it gets tested. But the power would be then with the United States Congress, the United States Senate having convicted the president, to have him removed.
Sarah Kendzior: And how do you think that will play out in terms of, what do you think Trump would do? Because I can't imagine he's just going to go along with it, given his past behavior.
John Bonifaz: Well I think he's going to very much try to claim that this is some kind of witch hunt, continuing just like he claims the Mueller investigation was, and that he did nothing wrong. But the more the evidence is laid out for the public to see, and the more that he will lose that fight. 16 million people watched the Michael Cohen hearings where he testified publicly before Congress and the nation. We can only imagine the millions more who will watch the impeachment hearings as they start. And every day the president tries to claim that everyone else is lying, and that he's the only one who's telling the truth will just be another day that he's losing that fight.
John Bonifaz: Donald Trump has a real reason, beyond his own ego and everything else that's involved with him, to want to stay in office and that is that the statute of limitations, arguably, for some of the obstructive acts that he committed according to Robert Mueller will run out, If he's serving a second term. But if he doesn't prevail in 2020 and he's a private citizen in 2021, then he could very well face a federal indictment at that time for the obstructive acts that he's committed over the past several years. It's a five-year statute limitation for some of these obstructive acts. So that's why, I think, he's going to be even more engaged in trying to stop this process because he doesn't want to see impeachment before, he doesn't want to be threatened with a loss in 2020 when he's facing the potential of a criminal indictment in 2021.
Sarah Kendzior: I've been sort of futilely trying to explain that to people, that he does have a logical reason for this, not a moral one, not a legal one but a preservation of his own self-interest. And on that note, I have some concerns about 2020 as an election. Let's say he is not impeached and that this outcome doesn't happen and that it does rely on the election to remove him from power. Michael Cohen, among others, has stated that Trump will not leave in 2020 even if he loses the election. Is this an outcome that you're also concerned about?
John Bonifaz: I am concerned about it because we know that this president has claimed that three million unlawfully legal votes were effectively tallied in the last cycle for Hillary Clinton. He's claimed that there were undocumented people voting fraudulent votes that were cast. And so these kinds of outrageous claims, none of which are true, none of which have any basis whatsoever, but these kinds of outrageous claims are designed to undermine public confidence in the process and to frankly cover up for the actual loss that he faced. He lost by 3 million votes, as we know, in a popular vote to Hillary Clinton. So the fact that he was willing to do that after he was already in the Oval Office, demonstrates that he's quite willing to throw out these outrageous claims to undermine the faith in the outcome of an election. And we can imagine, that if he actually were to lose the Electoral College vote, and potentially again lose the popular vote, that he might try to bring out those kinds of claims again and then use that as a basis to say he wants to demand an investigation and not allow there to be a transfer of power. Now I will say, that one thing that we don't do in this country, as you know, Sarah, we don't verify the election. We don't engage in looking at paper ballots in those states that use the paper ballots. We simply rely on the optical scan machines to determine what the election tallies are that night. And in jurisdictions where there aren't any paper ballots, there is no real opportunity to verify. So I'm all for verification of elections. I think we should be engaging in that and there's a strong movement in many parts of the country to push for mandatory audits, but I can imagine that that kind of set of claims coming from this president would force us, frankly, to engage in that verification process and demonstrate that he needs to be removed if he's not voluntarily giving up power if he in fact has lost the election.
Sarah Kendzior: Who would have oversight of that verification process, and what's the likelihood you see of it being carried out?
John Bonifaz: Well we have unfortunately, on this standpoint, a very decentralized process. We ought to have a uniform standard all across the country that protects the right to vote. But it's decentralized. So it's up to the states and often up to localities to determine how to engage in the counting of our votes. But each state, of course, sends a certain number of numbers the Electoral College to cast the votes. Each state has to engage in their own verification process. And in some states, as I said, that don't have any paper ballots involved; a state like South Carolina for example, you're dealing here with electronic voting machines that are frankly junk, but the only hope there is to do forensics analysis and to have computer scientists get into the machines to see whether there is any foul play or any benign errors that occurred with the machines. But it will be a decentralized process and I think one of the biggest fears that people have from the election integrity standpoint, is that after we saw what happened with Bush v. Gore and the Florida recount and then even with Ohio in 2004, I happen to be the lead counsel for voters in the fight over the Ohio recount in 2004. Imagine if that's done over many states. I served as a legal adviser to the recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, but at the end of the day there were not meaningful recounts there that were done. It was shut down in Michigan during the hand counting of paper ballots. So, really, it's going to require a massive effort to ensure if we're going to verify elections that they're done properly. At the end of the day, that requires mandatory audits in each state with paper-ballot-based systems.
Sarah Kendzior: What are your concerns about voting machines in general? You mentioned these prior elections over the 21st century. And now of course we have new concerns with the identification of Kremlin interference in the election broadly with suspicion that voting machines were tampered with. There's always varied reports about this. Now they're saying they were in all 40 states. You see Ivanka Trump getting involved in trademarking voting machines. What should we be looking out for specifically in 2020? Is it kind of a continuation of pre-existing problems, or are new crises set to emerge?
John Bonifaz: There's the unfortunate reality that new crises could emerge, particularly knowing that we have one or more foreign powers that see the vulnerabilities of this system now and want to engage in further interference. The first problem we had is that we outsource to private companies for the process of counting our votes. That makes absolutely no sense. These ought to be publicly owned machines that we control as a people. A second point, as I said, is that anything that doesn't involve a paper ballot is by definition an unreliable system. There needs to be a paper ballot so that there can be any proper recount or audit to take place. When you don't have those systems in place, when you don't have an actual paper record of how the vote was cast, then you make it very difficult to go back over what was declared on election night. And in other countries, Canada for example, there is an understanding that there's going to be a hand counting of the paper ballots, and the tallies you're going to take some time to be declared. Here, we must have this instantaneous result, literally when the polls close, we get the news analysis of who won, who lost, or maybe a few hours later. But it's just not acceptable that we would wait days to understand the results. But in a very close election that should be the understanding, and we should also have candidates in either party or even minor parties, who understand that they don't concede in a close election when there are these questions of whether or not the votes were properly counted. That, in fact, a close election mandates even more so that there be these kinds of audits. But I think that it's a very dangerous moment we're in now that we see the elements of a foreign power that already has apparently hacked into voter registration databases throughout the country, but also knows the vulnerabilities of our voting systems.
John Bonifaz: And when you hear election officials say well we don't have our technology hooked up to the Internet, that is really not true. They hook the machines up to the Internet to get the upgrades in the software, and a sophisticated hacker will know when they're going to do that or will be prepared for when they do that and can then go in there and implement malware. And that's why, again, any of these systems, even the optical scan systems are vulnerable, and why we must have paper ballots to ultimately do an audit and recount.
Sarah Kendzior: So if citizens are concerned about this and want to ensure transparency and election integrity, what can they do? And in particular, what do they do if they live in a state like mine, in Missouri, a kind of a dark money, GOP dominated capital to ensure election integrity?
John Bonifaz: Definitely, I think people should be calling on their state legislators to get behind strong mandatory audit laws and strong laws that require paper-ballot-based systems in states where they don't exist. And they should seek to get involved with organizations like the National Election Defense Coalition and Verified Voting groups that have been in the lead in calling for these paper-ballot-based systems and calling for audits. It's important that we take on voter suppression, that we take on gerrymandering, that we take on big money in politics, but we also need to pay attention to making sure that we properly count our votes. That after we've done everything we can to protect an election leading up to an Election Day, that on Election Day, our votes are properly counted.
Sarah Kendzior: And so to kind of pivot a little bit away from this, you've done a lot of research and advocacy about the issue of dark money and its impact in politics. Can you explain to our audience what dark money is, and how it impacted the 2016 elections and may impact the 2020 election?
John Bonifaz: Well so dark money is the terminology that has emerged after the Citizens United ruling in 2010. That was a Supreme Court ruling that effectively equated corporations as people in the political process, saying that corporations have the right to make independent expenditures up to the sky, that they have the same First Amendment rights to do so as people do leading back to a prior decision, Buckley vs. Valeo. In 1976, a Supreme Court issue that equated money with speech, saying that people have the ability to do that, if they, of course, had the money to do it. And so out of the Citizens United ruling has emerged this dark money phenomenon where you have these hidden ways in which funds can come into the political process without any accountability without any disclosure required. Now you know, the justices when they issued that opinion in Citizens United, they had actual language that reinforced the view that disclosure was constitutional, and that I think the main suggestion coming out of the ruling among the majority of five/four majority was that Congress could create a disclosure law to, at minimum, ensure that we know where this money is coming from. And that was the initial response that members of Congress had to address Citizens United, which was known as the Disclose Act. And even that couldn't get through the Republican senators and Mitch McConnell and others who opposed it.
John Bonifaz: And so we don't even have basic disclosure of this kind of dark money that flows through corporate entities, flows through 501c(4), and you know, that is I think a huge threat to our elections. I will say that it's not the only aspect of our system of big money dominated politics that's a threat. The overall system that we have of limiting campaign spending, of super PACs, of a system that doesn't allow for public funding for our federal offices, at the congressional level did have a system of partial public funding for presidential races. It's now gone by the wayside. That entire system needs to be overhauled. Which is why we support public funding elections and why we support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United and Buckley v. Valeo rulings to allow for campaign spending limits across the board and to ensure that corporations have no place in our political process.
Sarah Kendzior: And if citizens wanted to get involved in tampering down the influence of dark money, what are some things that they could do?
John Bonifaz: Well I think that they could certainly get involved with the effort for moving forward a constitutional amendment. "An American Promise", which is a partner of ours, has been doing some critical work at the grassroots level around the country to push that. Just in the next few days, the state Senate in New Hampshire is going to hold a hearing on a bill for pushing forward a constitutional amendment to have New Hampshire become the 20th state to call for a constitutional amendment out of Congress to overturn the Citizens United ruling. So that needs to continue moving forward. There also needs to be a push for abolishing super PACs, and we have been involved in this fight in different parts of the country to demonstrate that the federal appeals court ruling that laid the groundwork for super PACs, known as SpeechNow.org v. FEC ought to be overturned, as the Supreme Court has never reviewed that ruling and the super PACs really have no place in our political process. They are vehicles through which we have this unlimited corporate and spending by the wealthy taking place, undermining our very contribution limits that are on the books. So we have legislation that we've worked with state legislators in Massachusetts, that's pending in New York City, soon to be introduced in Seattle that would abolish super PACs. St. Petersburg, Florida was the first place we pushed this with a broad coalition on the ground there. And it passed in October 2017, abolishing super PACs and abolishing foreign corporate money in their city. And people can get involved signing up with us at FreeSpeechforPeople.org to learn more about that. They can get involved with American Promise and on the public funding front, they can get involved with groups like Public Citizen and Common Cause and others who have been pushing for public funding of elections in critical states, including New York state where there's a fight right now to have it be the next state to have that kind of system in place.
Sarah Kendzior: Thank you for those suggestions. Another question I had about dark money is we've had this problem of super PACs or various organizations funneling an inordinate amount of money into a particular candidate or party to wield influence. But we seem to have turned a corner with the amount of foreign influence in our elections, when for example Russian oligarchs can funnel money through the NRA which then brings it to the GOP. Can you comment on that change and on foreign domination of U.S. elections?
John Bonifaz: Yeah, I think that this is a definite new threat to our body Republic now. I will say first of all, that as you know, Sarah, there are 14 criminal referrals referenced in the Mueller Report toward the end of that report, twelve of which are blacked out. So the two that are not blacked out involve the Cohen referral dealing with a criminal federal campaign finance violations that occurred with secret hush money payments in the 2016 election, for which Cohen is going to jail. And the matter of Greg Craig, who didn't properly register as a lobbyist for a foreign government. Those two are understood and public. But there are 12 others that are blacked out. And there is a reasonable basis to assume that one or more may very well deal with the question of foreign money going through our process, including with the NRA. There's been an enormous amount of reporting as to whether or not, the NRA was essentially illegally funneling money from Russian oligarchs, even the Russian government through its entity and into our elections. We have had longstanding prohibitions on foreign money in our elections. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, two years after Citizens United, unanimously upheld a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that in Bluman v. FEC made clear that the law on the books, federal law, that there shall be no role for foreign nationals spending money indirectly or directly in our elections if that law is constitutional still. And it would be upheld. So when we see this kind of foreign influence coming through the NRA, or coming through even other corporate entities we have to really take note of the fact that this requires a new oversight from the criminal perspective, but also from stronger you know, a legal infrastructure to take it on. And that's why we have this model law that St. Petersburg, Florida has passed, and we are urging other jurisdictions to pass to prohibit foreign influence corporations from spending money. President Obama, famously at the State of the Union speech right after the Citizens United ruling, looked at the justices, criticized that ruling, and said it would allow foreign money into our process now. Justice Alito shook his head at time mouthing the words "That's not true." In fact, what President Obama said has proven to be true. And this loophole that Citizens United created by saying corporations can spend money in our elections, now allows foreign influence through the corporate form to take place undermining that very law that the Supreme Court has upheld in 2012.
Sarah Kendzior: Yeah, I mean, as I'm talking to you, it's clear that we are in a crisis. We've been dealing with these crises for a long time and the refusal to kind of take them head-on has just made them worse and more insidious. But even in the midst of this, we're still seeing reluctance from some of our officials to respond with the assertiveness necessary. I was thinking about how you had worked to try to get George W Bush impeached for his offenses. At that time, Pelosi came out against the impeachment of George W. Bush and now she's come out against the impeachment of Trump. What are your thoughts on that and on her strategy and why exactly this keeps happening?
John Bonifaz: I think it's an actual reflection of this view that's mistaken that the impeachment power is somehow just a partisan tool that should no longer be used. What really Nancy Pelosi should say when she says, "It's not worth impeaching this president", what she should say, is that we should have a debate in this country about removing that power from the Constitution, because she's effectively raising it when she makes these pronouncements that they're not even going to consider impeachment. Now, she's walked that back somewhat since the Mueller Report came out and says it's it's on the table, but we should not be fooled into thinking that somehow, the House will take up impeachment in 2020. If they don't start the process in the next few months, I think it's pretty clear they're going to pivot to the election cycle where the Democratic primary debates beginning in June and, they're going to say now we have an election. So the one thing I would urge your listeners to pay attention to and to call out on their members of Congress, is not to let them say "well, we're going to just continue to hold these oversight hearings and then we'll look at the different segments of the Mueller Report and then we'll make a decision say in the fall or the winter of 2019 whether to start impeachment." That pretty much is a predicament that we will not be having an impeachment process if that's their answer. And I think what what has gone on both from the standpoint of the illegal and unconstitutional war we had with Iraq, and now with this president abusing his power with the most recent one, frankly being his refusal to abide by Congress's mandate after passing the War Powers resolution on Yemen to stop U.S. military involvement in Yemen. What we have, is a Congress that is not living up to its responsibility, not just to be a check and balance, but to use that power in the constitution to deal with this flagrant abuse of power coming from the Oval Office. And I think if we're going to just ignore it, if we're going to say impeachment is not possible now then when will it ever be possible? Let's have an open and honest debate about whether it should be removed from the Constitution, whether we should essentially say that the framers got it wrong. When you have a direct and serious threat to our republic, that you just wait until the next election cycle to address that.
Andrea Chalupa: We are living in abnormal times right now and you need a new strategy, and you need to evolve. And you did pivot, and you need to confront the challenges face-on. Not come out with this out dated strategy that makes you look so tone deaf to the crisis that not only the U.S., but the world is up against right now. So to deal with these abnormal times we find ourselves in, we hear a gasoline nation take a strong stance of saying no to Savior Syndrome. The only thing that's going to get us out of this is self-reliance and holding our leaders accountable. And the only power we have left that we can rely on is grassroots power. To illustrate our point, here's Cher providing a useful metaphor for these times. Rely on no one but your own hard work and dedication. That's the only way out of this. Awaken your inner Cher.
Interviewer: You said a man is not a necessity. A man is a luxury like dessert.
Cher: Yeah, a man is absolutely not a necessity.
Interviewer: Did you mean that to sound mean and bitter?
Cher: Oh, not at all. I adore dessert. I love men and I think men are the coolest. But you don't really need them to live. My mom said to me, “You know sweetheart, one day you should settle down and marry a rich man.” I said, “Mom I am a rich man."
Andrea: Andrea Chalupa: Welcome to the Gaslit Nation action guide available on our website, gaslitnationpod.com. Democracy is a lifestyle. Trump is a symptom of the corruption, institutional failure and indifference that we can no longer tolerate.
Sarah: Sarah Kendzior: Okay, so number one, get a guide. Stride toward freedom, the Montgomery Story by Martin Luther King Junior is an essential guide to self management, managing others and building teams. This inspirational case study of resistance written by a young MLK after successfully leading the Montgomery bus boycott shows how smart organization took on the authoritarianism of the Jim Crow south. Never forget the MLK was considered a radical in his day, even though there's nothing radical about demanding human rights and dignity. Today, the same remains true. It's not radical or socialist to demand that corporation stop polluting for profits and to call for an end to tax breaks like for sending jobs overseas that worsen the income inequality crisis. To help communicate these urgent issues, another essential guide is the all new Don't Think of An Elephant. Know your Values and Frame the Debate by George Lakoff.
Andrea: Andrea Chalupa: Number two of the Gaslit Nation action guide. Focus on state races. States decide key quality of life issues and local candidates help drive votes up ballot for federal races. EveryDistrict and Future Now are two excellent groups working to build a progressive infrastructure and turn states blue from the bottom up. Get involved by donating what you can or join or start your own group with their help in your state. We provide in our action guide interviews with EveryDistrict and Future Now for more background.
Sarah: Sarah Kendzior: Number three, join. Grassroots power is one of the strongest forms of power we have left in America, especially with Mitch Mcconnell and Trump packing the courts. Don't succumb to savior syndrome by expecting Alexandria Ocasio Cortez or whomever else you admire to do all the work. Representatives are human and need our help fulfill the far right's worst nightmare by creating generations of AOC by helping build a more progressive union. Join a local group from any of these great national organizations for important action alerts like demonstrations or getting out the vote Indivisible, Swing Left, Sister District, MoveOn, Flippable.
Andrea: Andrea Chalupa: Number four, fight global warming. Sunrise Movement is a grassroots organization demanding a green new deal. There are a lot of other groups working to adopt urgently needed green initiatives. C40 cities connect cities around the world committed to taking climate action. 350.org helps activists rise to the challenge of the climate crisis and there are more trusted organizations that need our support linked to on our action guide.
Sarah: Sarah Kendzior: Number five, unionize. In the age of Trump, there should be no more fear of starting or joining a union. Just tell your boss that you saw how unions protected workers during the universally unpopular Trump shutdown. Fight for 15 and its local variants are working to ensure a fair wage and strengthen unions in the service sector. Don't know how to get started? Read organizing to win: new research on union strategies and No Shortcuts: organizing for power in the new gilded age, both of which are linked to the Gaslit Nation website.
Andrea: Andrea Chalupa: Number six, run for something. There are a lot of great groups out there that demystify the process of becoming a candidate and running a campaign. Run for something is one of our favorites. There's even a book to help you get started. Run for something: a real talk guide to fixing the system yourself by Amanda Litman. If you believe in facts and science and are a compassionate human being, you need to run for something and recruit others to as well. Even if it's a long shot, you can still create urgent conversations and treat your campaign like a platform for discussions you care about helping bring together like-minded people to work for change even long past the election. Just look at what a refreshing discovery long shot Mayor Pete has been and all the great work Andrew Gillum continues to do to register 1 million voters in Florida.
Sarah: Sarah Kendzior: Number seven, protect the vote. EveryDistrict action fund just launched a quote "report card" identifying states with enough progressive support and local governments to push through important voting reforms like automatic registration and the abolishment of racist voter ID laws. Is your state on the list? You can click a link and find out. If so, EveryDistrict action fund empowers you to help your state reach the gold standard of voting. Concerned about vote hacking and Ivanka Trump branded voting machines? Yes, that is a thing. Secure Our Votes provides background information and other resources to take action. Other groups to check out are Spread the Vote, Let America Vote, and Project ID which helped people get the information they need to register, vote and get an ID. And again, these are linked to on our site.
Andrea: Sarah Kendzior: Number eight, launch ballot initiatives and laws. Why not launch a ballot initiative? Kate Faghe turned her Facebook post into the movement Voters Not Politicians to end gerrymandering in Michigan. It passed overwhelmingly. We have a link on our action guide for you to read more of her story or you could build a grassroots coalition to get a law passed in your state. In our episode "how to pass a law," I interview my mother about how she, while pregnant with me and a young mother already without any political experience, mobilized a grassroots army to pass the child car seat law in California. Yes, it can be done.
Sarah: Andrea Chalupa: Number nine, end terrorism in America. Moms Demand works to elect candidates and lobby for sensible legislation to stop the gun violence epidemic driven by the blood money gun lobby, the NRA. Southern Poverty Law Center exposes white supremacy, a leading terrorist movement in America to help immigrant communities deliberately terrorized by Trump's cruel border policies. We have a list linked here of groups that you can support.
Andrea: Sarah Kendzior: Number 10, make art. To say that art cannot make a difference stems from a tone-deaf attitude of privilege. Ukraine's Euromaidan Revolution of 2013 to 2014 relied on art and artists of all kinds to sustain protesters living in Arctic cold temperatures and under the threat of government sanctioned violence. North Korean dissident Yeon Mi Park said the Orwell's Animal Farm helped her heal after escaping the cult like dictatorship. And in our episode The Blue Wave continues, Kansas rising, we shared Davis Hammett's account of how painting a Rainbow house created a ripple effect in Kansas leading to major electoral victories. We need the artists and storytellers of all kinds more than ever.
Sarah: Sarah Kendzior: So this is not a comprehensive list of suggestions of how you can create a more progressive America and stop entrenched corruption. There are many paths you can take, and we encourage you to think for yourself and to work together. There is no one solution whether you're in a blue state or a red state, these ideas apply to you. Do not take any of the freedoms you have left for granted. Never underestimate the power of hard work. Additionally, we have a reading list linked to you from there because it's essential to read widely to understand how we got here and the best ways to navigate the challenges of the 21st century. So again, all of this is available on our site, GaslitNationpod.com