GAINESVILLE — Last month’s visit to the University of Florida by President Donald Trump’s oldest son is still reverberating through campus, with some student leaders pushing to oust the student body president who invited him.
For only the second time in the school’s 115-year history, a student president faces impeachment — and this time it’s happening with a U.S. president under the same threat.
The parallels with Washington, D.C., don’t stop there. The looming battle in Gainesville is a struggle between the executive and legislative branches, fanned by partisan loyalties. And it features newly uncovered evidence — an email — seen by many as a smoking gun, much like the now-famous call that touched off the widening impeachment inquiry into Trump senior.
Michael C. Murphy received a formal resolution for his impeachment Tuesday afternoon, which was signed by more than 100 students and alumni. It was delivered to his on-campus office and sent to his UF email. The school’s Senate president Emily Dunson, received a copy, too, in accordance with student government rules.
Those behind the effort say Murphy conspired with an official for Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign to bring Donald Trump Jr. and Trump campaign adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle to campus for speeches on Oct. 10.
Questions have been raised about the legality of the visit, as Murphy agreed to pay the pair $50,000 in publicly funded student activity fees and the law says public funds cannot be used to support political campaigns.
Adav Noti, senior director of the Campaign Legal Center and former legal counsel for the Federal Election Commission, said he couldn’t say whether Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle violated campaign laws while at UF, because “the line between campaigning and sort of promoting an agenda is not always crystal clear."
But there is still cause for concern about the event, he said.
“Campaign officials shouldn’t be giving paid speeches to charitable organizations," Noti added. "That shouldn’t be happening. So all the discussions about whether they broke the law or not shouldn’t obscure the bigger point that they just don’t care about the law.”
Murphy has maintained since before the event that it was not a campaign stop, even though the speeches focused mainly on the senior Trump’s success as president.
Then an email surfaced, as first reported by UF’s independent student newspaper, The Alligator, showing Murphy worked to set up the event with Caroline Wren, national finance consultant for Trump Victory, a fundraising committee for the president’s campaign.
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Wren declined to be interviewed for this story, instead releasing a statement that she met Murphy for the first time in the summer, “when he expressed interest in bringing Donald Trump Jr. to campus.”
“I followed up with him via my private email in my personal capacity and mistakenly forgot to remove my Trump Victory signature,” she wrote. “After an initial call to discuss a potential visit, University of Florida representatives were connected to Donald Trump Jr’s office.”
At the same time, Murphy has come under fire for his apparent ties to the Trump family. Photos on social media show him and Dunson, who leads UF’s Gator Party, together at Trump events in Washington, D.C. Campaign finance records show the student president’s father, Dan Murphy, donated $5,600 to Trump’s campaign this year.
Michael Murphy and Dunson did not respond to calls seeking comment.
“Public records show that Michael Murphy colluded with a member of the Donald Trump campaign,” student senator Ben Lima said during a student government meeting last week. Lima is leading the impeachment charge.
“If this was not a campaign event, then why was the student body president in communication with the Trump campaign to bring these speakers to campus?” he asked.
More than 15 others spoke against Murphy, saying he isn’t fit to be president. One was Anthony Rojas, a graduate student who criticized Murphy for dodging reporters’ questions about the event and appearing to be more focused on national politics than issues that need attention on campus.
“The Trump campaign doesn’t need favors by anyone in student government," Rojas said. “(Murphy) is not here to support Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, and UF student money is not his personal piggy bank.”
Gabrielle Hernandez, Senate majority leader for Gator Party, of which Murphy is a part, said at the meeting that he isn’t “rising to the standards” of his office. She called on other students to join her and “condemn" his communication with Trump’s campaign.
Student government diversity chairwoman Stephanie Beltran added that Murphy “misused” student funds. He “was not leading with the best interest of every Gator,” she said. “He was leading with the best interest of him and his family."
Each UF student pays about $17 in activity fees per credit hour, or about $2,000 in four years of undergraduate enrollment. Because they are paid along with tuition, the fees can be covered by Bright Futures, a state scholarship program fueled by public tax dollars.
Emily Hyden, a student who organized the protest outside the auditorium where Donald Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle spoke, said in an interview that she is searching for a lawyer who might be willing to help UF students get back the money paid to the speakers. The email between Murphy and Wren is “conclusive evidence” that Murphy acted inappropriately, she said, and that means the payment was improper, too.
Jarrod Rodriguez, treasurer of UF’s College Republicans group, said the calls for impeachment are groundless.
“I don’t really think there is evidence of an impeachable offense,” said Rodriguez, 20. “I’m not saying that it doesn’t raise any eyebrows, but it also isn’t the nail in the coffin.”
Most students on campus have forgotten about the strife spurred by Trump Jr.’s visit, he added, and reporting by The Alligator is the only reason anyone is still talking about it.
“No one disputes the fact that Michael Murphy is very well-connected,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t fault him for using those connections to bring a speaker of that caliber to campus.”
During their speeches inside University Auditorium, both Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle thanked Murphy for hosting them. Trump Jr. contended that the voice of conservatives “isn’t always heard on college campuses."
Guilfoyle called him “brave" for holding the event despite push back from hundreds of students who protested. She said he was “doing a service for freedom of speech.”
Lima, the student senator, had a different take. Murphy has long shut out fellow student government members whose opinions don’t align with his, he said. Senators who opposed the visit thrice tried to bring the topic up for discussion before the event, but members of Murphy’s campus party blocked it.
When it came up at a senate judiciary committee meeting Oct. 4, members of the Gator Party didn’t attend and prevented the group from conducting business. The same happened two days later, Lima said.
“They’re basically silencing the voices,” he added. “They’re choosing to benefit the Trump family but not the students. It’s really an insult and a disgrace to the student body to be silent about something students are so passionate about."
That leaves impeachment as the only option, Lima said at the recent student government meeting. It’s a move Murphy can’t ignore.
According to student government rules, Murphy will have the chance to present counter-evidence and testimony before half of the senate, which will take the initial vote on his impeachment.
If at least two-thirds of the group votes in favor, Murphy will be immediately suspended. Then the other half of the senate will take a final vote on whether to permanently remove him from office.
“I don’t think you ever envision that it will be necessary to take this step,” Lima said. “But it’s one of the measures that is there to hold our officials accountable. When the time comes, we shouldn’t be afraid to use it — no matter the level of government."