University of Florida student president is being impeached over a Donald Trump Jr. speech

Posted at 4:56 PM, Nov 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-15 16:56:50-05

(CNN) — In a reflection of the federal government in miniature, the student body president of the University of Florida is facing impeachment for allegedly abusing his power to benefit a Trump.

The move to impeach stems from an October 10 speech from Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle as part of his “Triggered” book tour at the University Auditorium in Gainesville. The UF’s ACCENT Speakers Bureau paid the couple $50,000 in student activity fees for the speech.

Two weeks later, the school newspaper, The Independent Florida Alligator, published emails between UF student body president Michael Murphy and Caroline Wren, a finance official for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, in which they discussed the speech.

That coordination, some students say, violates a student body rule saying that no student activity funds should be used in support of, or against a political party.

The impeachment resolution filed by five student senators on Tuesday says Murphy “abused his power to advance a particular political party at the expense of the students he should represent.” A total of 107 people, including a mix of school senators, UF students and alumni, also signed the resolution.

“This seems to be an obvious violation,” said Ben Lima, one of the UF senators leading the impeachment charge.

In all, the episode mirrors what’s going on in Washington, DC: a president facing impeachment after being accused of using his powers to benefit a particular political party, amid a backdrop of a sharply divided political atmosphere.

Murphy and Wren have denied wrongdoing. A UF spokesman said that Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle did not campaign during the paid speech.

“UF’s policy regarding campaign appearances on campus is in alignment with state and federal law regarding campaign appearances on campus,” the university said. “Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle were advised about UF’s policy prior to their appearance and did not engage in campaign activities during the event.”

From speech to impeach

The October speech was part of Trump Jr.’s tour for his book “Triggered,” yet it bore elements of a campaign-style rally, including effusive praise for President Trump and video from the event shows. Guilfoyle — a Trump campaign senior advisor and Trump Jr.’s girlfriend — introduced him by slamming politicians in the “swamp” and praising Trump Jr. and his father.

“God bless the Trump family, God bless President Trump, God bless our veterans, our law enforcement and our first responders, and God bless all of you for fighting for this country. God bless America and Donald Trump Jr.,” she said, leading to chants of “U-S-A.”

Trump Jr. then delivered his speech even as some of those in the crowd attempted to yell over him.

The emails between Murphy and Wren, released from an alumna to The Alligator in late October, show that Wren, a national financial consultant for Trump Victory, a fundraising committee, personally asked Murphy to bring Trump Jr. to campus.

“We met at my house on the 4th of July,” Wren wrote in a Sept. 10 email. “I wanted to follow up with you regarding a speaking engagement at the University of Florida for Donald Trump Jr.”

Murphy responded the next day saying he’d “love to hop on a phone call” to discuss it, The Alligator reported.

Wren has not responded to a CNN request for comment. In a statement to The New York Times, she said that she was not representing the Trump campaign when she emailed Murphy and that she had forgotten to remove her “Trump Victory” signature.

Murphy told The Alligator that he told Wren on the phone that he wanted to bring Trump Jr. for a non-campaign event. Wren then connected him to Trump Jr.’s booking agent to plan the event, he said.

Daniel Nordby, Murphy’s attorney, said the purpose of the event was to discuss the book, not allow campaign activity.

“Michael Murphy did not violate federal election law, state law, or any university policies. Rather, this situation is reflective of students on college campuses across America that are intolerant of conservative views,” Nordby said Friday.

Murphy said his staff reached out to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and non-campaign staff for an event, but his non-campaign staff declined, The Alligator reported.

The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment.

The $50,000 price tag was not out of the ordinary for Florida’s speaker series. Rapper Pitbull was paid $130,000, “Shark Tank” star Kevin O’Leary was paid $95,000, and comedian Hasan Minhaj received $78,000 for their respective speeches, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

And like in the federal government, actually removing a student president at UF would require an overwhelming majority that will be difficult to attain.

As explained in the UF student government constitution, the student body president can be impeached if two-thirds of the school senators elected in the spring vote to do so. The president would then be suspended until he faces a trial by the school senators elected in the fall, who can convict him and remove him from office with a three-fourths vote.