An attack on Congress’ coequal power
WASHINGTON — President Trump, after saying Special Counsel Robert Mueller should testify before Congress on the report he wrote on his investigation into Russian interference into U.S. elections, now says he shouldn’t.
“No redos for the Dems,” he tweeted.
Mueller himself is said to have agreed to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on May 15. This would be significant in light of Mueller’s complaint in a letter to Attorney General William Barr that Barr misrepresented the special counsel’s findings in a “summary” letter to Congress. Congress has asked the Justice Department to submit an unredacted version of Mueller’s report, but Barr has refused — for which he may face contempt of Congress charges.
The dispute appears headed now for the Supreme Court to decide on a broader constitutional issue: Congress’ specified role of oversight of the executive branch, which argues for testimony from Mueller on the now-disputed contents of his report.
This approach is part of the president’s game plan of delaying any proposal or action that may challenge the get-out-of-jail-free card he endlessly issues to himself to abuse his presidential powers.
He has played political dodge ball with Congress, the Democrats and the American public over the Mueller investigations for more than two years now. He has enabled his most recent private lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, to stall and eventually reject all efforts to get Trump to raise his right hand on The Good Book.
Given the president’s proclivity to lie and otherwise tarnish the truth on sundry matters, Giuliani and previous defense lawyers consistently warned Trump that any sit-down with Mueller’s team of investigators would be a “perjury trap,” inviting eventual jail time or impeachment.
Now that the original Mueller investigation is over, with its report of no chargeable conspiracy between Trump and the Russian government, Trump uses the old cop-on-the-beat line of “Nothing to see here.”
But the special counsel has inconveniently left a loose end, withholding an opinion on whether Trump obstructed justice in 10 different areas related to the inquiry. That justifies continued congressional pursuit of Mueller’s testimony under oath.
On the subject of Mueller’s agreement to appear before the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee next week, the president says no. So committee chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York has been obliged to reiterate he will issue a subpoena.
In addition to the Judiciary Committee’s interest in Trump’s possible obstruction of justice, the House Ways and Means Committee, with jurisdiction over taxing power constitutionally in the hands of Congress, has called on the Internal Revue Service to release Trump’s tax returns. It seeks light on possible violation of the so-called emoluments clause, prohibiting acceptance of foreign payments of any sort to the chief executive though business or other deals. But Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin disputes the IRS’ need to comply.
Kicking the issue to the court system, ultimately to the Supreme Court, obviously plays into the old Trump pattern of slow-walking his many various legal problems through the process to eventual dismissal or vindication.
He has a long history as a rich New York real estate tycoon of buying time and enduring other difficulties through litigation. At the same time, he continues to amass his personal fortune, usually remaining steps away from one sheriff or another.
Trump confidently boasts that “his judges,” two of the five Republicans on the highest court appointed by him, will stand by him in his battles with House Democrats. Yet in doing so Trump’s executive branch is breaching the constitutional separation of powers and usurping the legislative branch’s powers of the purse and of oversight.
Is it conceivable that Trump’s hold on those five Republican justices is so strong that they will side with him and violate basic Constitutional principles? The notion boggles the mind of any halfway nonpartisan believer in the American democratic system as we as a people have come to accept it.
Jules Witcover is a Creators Syndicate columnist.