Yale professor on Trump’s policies and impeachment

Harold Hongju Koh has been a human rights lawyer for 30 years. Koh is pictured above with his wife, Mary-Christy Fisher, an attorney for veterans, and daughter Emily, an advocate for gender equality, at a Jan. 21, 2017 march in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Harold Hongju Koh

Donald Trump isn’t winning. At least that’s what Yale Law professor Harold Hongju Koh concluded in his recently released book, “The Trump Administration and International Law.” The distinguished professor shared his thoughts on impeachment, foreign policy and the U.S.’s international relations with a Chapman audience of about 60 Oct. 24.

“Who is supposed to elect the President of the United States? The people of America,” Koh told The Panther. “What role does a foreign government have in influencing that outcome? To invite that in is just shameful.”

Koh has a distinguished list of accomplishments: he spent five days in North Korea in one of the longest trips any U.S. citizen has taken to the country, served in the Clinton administration, is a sterling professor at Yale University and he recently spent time with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He shared with the audience not only his thoughts on the current political climate, but the difficulties his own family have gone through.

“Because my mother had a house in North Korea, from which she escaped to come to America, it was very touching and sad to be in North Korea. North Korea is terribly poor and horribly governed,” said Koh, who served as a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor during the Clinton administration.

Koh’s newest book, “The Trump Administration and International Law,” was released in 2018 and studies the administration’s take on immigration, climate change, human rights and the U.S.’s relations with North Korea, Russia, Iran and Ukraine.

“Trump has a huge amount of activity and that makes people think that he is achieving something,” Koh said. In the lecture, he explained in detail of how each topic in his book has been affected.

“A lot of sounding fury signifying nothing. In many of the areas, (Trump) has broken what he had before and not really putting anything in place,” Koh said. “It’s very dangerous to conduct foreign policy when all you can do is reject the previous policy and not have anything constructive to offer.”

Koh has been a law professor for 37 years, the dean of Yale Law School for five years and has worked in the U.S. government for 12 years. In addition to his work in the Clinton administration, he served as a legal adviser to the U.S. Department of State during the Obama years.

“It was the most exciting job I ever had, but it is really exhausting,” Koh said. “You are working around the clock, you travel all the time doing the most important work in the world. I was very proud to work there.”

The current impeachment inquiry into Trump comes after a whistleblower complaint regarding a call between the president of Ukraine and Trump was released Sept. 26. In the call, Trump asked the president of Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son. The impeachment inquiry was announced by the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi shortly after. House committees are currently hearing the testimonies of key officials and witnesses, while experiencing pushback from some Congressional Republicans and the White House.

Koh sees the content of the phone call as an impeachable offense and presented a parallel analysis to the Russia investigation that took place following the 2016 election.

“Now with regard to Russia, (Trump) said he did not collude with them, but we have a telephone call which he is asking them to collude and one that he released. He can’t say it didn’t happen, so his hand has been caught in the cookie jar,” Koh said.

The Russia investigation shares parallels with the Watergate scandal during the Richard Nixon administration — which has two parts to it — the burglary and cover up, according to Koh.

“With Trump, there is the hacking of Democratic National Committee server and Watergate breaking into the office, one being done by computer,” Koh said. “Then there is a cover up of it. The Mueller report accounted 10 different episodes of obstruction of justice and the only reason they said Trump couldn’t be prosecuted was that he was a sitting president, but they made it very clear he could be persecuted after he left office.”

Koh said “there is a lot of analogies to the past,” regarding the impeachment inquiry and past investigation.

“Everyone was upset over the Reagan’s administration arms for hostages, now arms for political dirt on the President’s opponents,” Koh said “Nixon had three counts of impeachment. Abuse of power, obstruction of justice and contempt of Congress. I think they got all three counts already.”

Koh said the takeaway from the lecture is that “even the most powerful man in the world is constrained by law.”

Perseea Ghafouria, a junior business administration major, was inspired by Koh’s work and purchased his book on her way out.

“I am trying to figure out what to do with my life and I am interested in international business. I think I want to pursue law school as a result of tonight,” Ghafouria said. “It’s been in my heart for a while, but he was just so moving. It was a matter of being pushed over the edge.”

Koh’s lecture section specifically on immigration and Iran was overwhelming for Ghafouria.

“My grandma is currently stuck in Iran because her green card expired. It’s been in my heart since Trump has been in office,” Ghafouria said. “It has been a lot of stress. She lived with me since I was a baby and it breaks my heart she is over there. I just want her to be home because home is where your family is.”

Kho, who has been a human rights lawyer for 30 years, said the Trump administration has been doing “terribly. The worst we’ve had,” in terms of human rights.

“The entire policy at the border is a human rights atrocity. The idea we would be separating parents from their children is so shocking and the idea of putting people in cages,” Koh said. “Amazingly, a U.S. government lawyer made the argument that these people in detention didn’t even deserve toothbrushes or sanitations. I never dreamed the United States of America would make this kind of argument. This is the kind of argument the North Koreans make or the Chinese.”

After addressing the audience about Trump’s actions in regards to international law, Koh’s message to the audience was of resistance and resilience.

“We can and will outlast Trump, but we must reaffirm our commitment to the rule of law so that our civic institutions can reknit our consensus after Trump is gone,” Koh said.