For Trump, the key piece of evidence is his July phone call with the Ukrainian president — but for Murphy, it’s an email, a short exchange with a Trump campaign consultant that his critics say is proof of misconduct.
The group of senators seeking Murphy’s impeachment argue that the Oct. 10 speaking engagement for Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle, his girlfriend, was funded with mandatory student fees in violation of rules banning the use of public students funds to support or oppose a “political party at any level.” In the eyes of critics, Murphy’s correspondence with the Trump fundraising consultant ahead of the event bolsters their case that Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle’s appearance was a campaign event.
“By using student fees to advance his own expressed political beliefs at the expense of the … Student Government writ large, Mr. Murphy not only endangered students marginalized by the speakers’ white nationalist supporters, but also abused his power to advance a particular political party at the expense of the students he should represent,” the impeachment resolution states.
Murphy’s attorney, Daniel Nordby, said in a statement to The Washington Post that his client was being targeted for his “conservative views.”
“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,” he said. “As stated by the University of Florida Spokesman and by the contract for the speaking engagement, the Donald Trump Jr. event was not a campaign event. The purpose of the event was to discuss and promote Donald Trump Jr.’s new number one New York Times best-selling book, and no campaign activity occurred at the event.”
Murphy could not be reached for comment late Tuesday, but he has previously maintained in comments to the student newspaper, the Independent Florida Alligator, that the couple’s speech was not a campaign event and therefore didn’t violate any rules.
Murphy’s impeachment inquiry, which was initially reported by the Tampa Bay Times and the Alligator, comes as Capitol Hill gears up for the first set of testimony from William B. Taylor Jr., the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and senior State Department official George Kent.
The timing of Trump Jr.'s appearance on Florida’s campus, just as his father is facing the most palpable threat to his presidency, is in part what drew hundreds of protesters to the event. In some ways, it was akin to a Trump campaign rally. The protesters called for the president’s impeachment, yelling “Lock him up!” while Trump’s supporters chanted “U-S-A!” to try to drown them out, as The Washington Post reported at the time.
But Henry Fair, the head of the ACCENT Speakers Bureau, an arm of the student government, told The Post last month that “this event is a campus speaking engagement, not a campaign event.” Others questioned that claim, noting that Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle enthusiastically supported the president during their talk.
But in Florida, the couple taunted the liberal protesters, with Guilfoyle telling them at one point, “I bet your parents are so proud of you,” to cheers from the pro-Trump crowd.
At one point, Guilfoyle said Trump was doing “so much for our country,” adding, “He has the balls to stand up for what’s right,” unlike other politicians who fall victim to a “little mini DustBuster, like, testicular vacuum,” the Times reported. Trump Jr. said of his father’s efforts to improve the economy: “There is not a single economic metric where we are not better off today than you were three years ago,” the Times reported.
Such comments, critics said, showed that Trump and Guilfoyle were actively campaigning for the president.
“These are well-known campaign surrogates traveling the country for a political candidate,” Bobby Mermer, co-president of Graduate Assistants United at UF, told The Post in October. He added: “We would be opposed to the ACCENT bureau using student fees to fund any candidates — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, it doesn’t matter. Have the campaigns or private funds pay for it, not mandatory student fees.”
In the brief September email exchange, Caroline Wren, national finance consultant for Trump Victory, reached out to Murphy saying she would like to bring Trump Jr., Guilfoyle and Republican National Campaign Co-Chairman Tommy Hicks to the university. She recalled that she and Murphy met at her house on the Fourth of July. At that time, Murphy mentioned that he’d like to bring Trump Jr. to campus, as he told the Alligator.
Murphy — already seen on campus as well connected because his father is a Republican lobbyist and has donated to Trump — responded to Wren’s email saying he would “love to hop on a phone call” to get the event rolling.
In a statement, Wren told The Post that she was reaching out in her personal capacity on her private email — linked to her company, Bluebonnet Fundraising — and “mistakenly forgot to remove my Trump Victory signature.”
“After an initial call to discuss a potential visit, University of Florida representatives were connected to Donald Trump Jr.'s office,” she said in the statement.
Murphy and Fair have previously disputed any claims that organizing the speaking event for the conservative power couple amounted to political bias, pointing to the fact that they also tried to bring Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to campus this fall.
The Alligator unearthed emails showing that Sanders’s non-campaign staff declined Murphy’s speaking invitation on Sept. 22, saying he was too busy. Sanders’s representatives asked if the presidential candidate could come to campus as part of a campaign event, but Murphy said no. He stressed that Trump Jr.'s appearance was on the agreement that it would not be a campaign speech.
“The only difference was Sen. Sanders’ non-campaign staff declined our invitation to speak in his official capacity,” Murphy wrote in an email to the Alligator. “Any attempt to try and separate one from the other with allegations of impropriety is deceptive and inflammatory.”
According to the student government constitution, a group of senators tasked with weighing impeachment must vote for Murphy’s ouster by two-thirds majority. If that occurs, he will be temporarily suspended as the case moves to a senate trial body, which must vote by three-fourths majority to convict and remove him from office.
Some conservative students voiced skepticism about the impeachment effort and defended Murphy’s actions. When the student senate broached the possibility of impeachment during a hearing last week, one student, Jared Rossi, said the impeachment was based on partisanship and that senators were misleadingly “stuffing Ms. Wren’s words into Michael Murphy’s mouth,” the Alligator reported.
Jarrod Rodriguez, treasurer of UF’s College Republicans group, told the Times that he did not believe the emails between Wren and Murphy provided evidence of an impeachable offense.
“I’m not saying that it doesn’t raise any eyebrows,” he said, “but it also isn’t the nail in the coffin.”