The battle lines are drawn. And the Constitution quakes.
That’s the state of our nation as President Donald Trump and Congress face a showdown likely to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court about the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of government.
The flashpoint is the House Judiciary Committee’s attempt to obtain the unredacted report of special counsel Robert Mueller and all of its underlying material. But that’s only the highest-profile skirmish in a relentless campaign by the White House to stonewall Democrats in Congress by denying access to records and witnesses regarding Mueller’s report on Russian election interference as well as other matters.
Constitutional conflict looms
On Wednesday, Trump unfortunately escalated the battle by asserting executive privilege over Mueller’s report and all of its contents rather than try to find a compromise. That’s how these matters get resolved most of the time. The Judiciary Committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to turn over the report.
A constitutional conflict looms unless there is a resolution before the full House votes to issue the contempt citation. If it turns into a legal fight, the federal courts must expedite the case.
The Constitution gives Congress oversight power over the executive branch. It’s part of our system of checks and balances, and it’s worked for more than 230 years, because both branches have largely respected it. Refusing to recognize that oversight is to say you are above the law. And no American is, not even the president.
Congress has a clear right to the full Mueller report. The redacted version contains ample evidence of potential obstruction by Trump. Congress must see the full report to decide whether impeachment is warranted.
Trump’s supporters say Democrats will disclose sensitive material. But the Senate and House intelligence committees routinely see classified information and keep it secret. Exceptions have been made before for grand jury material to be given to Congress, and it was not divulged.
Trump, who says he will resist all subpoenas, should not block Mueller or former White House counsel Donald McGahn from testifying. Trump likely knows the televised testimony of the two men will have a greater impact than the report. That’s gamesmanship, not grounds to bar them from appearing.
Trump risks becoming an authoritarian
Trump’s pattern of flouting Congress is disturbing. The White House, Justice Department, Treasury Department and top immigration adviser Stephen Miller have refused requests for information or subpoenas or invitations to testify. It’s all part of Trump’s lifelong habit of trying to hide the truth, seen prominently in the ongoing battle over releasing his taxes.
As president, this is dangerous behavior, and Trump risks becoming an authoritarian figure as he tries to undermine the institutions and norms that have made this country a pillar of democracy.
Congress has no choice but to push back.