Donald Trump is refusing to produce documents demanded–subpoenaed–by Congress, and has instructed members of his administration not to comply with orders to testify to Congressional committees.
If this isn’t a constitutional crisis, the term has no meaning.
As several sources have reminded us, Article 3 of the Articles of Impeachment against Nixon asserted that the President
… has failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1974, May 15, 1974, May 30, 1974, and June 24, 1974, and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas. The subpoenaed papers and things were deemed necessary by the Committee in order to resolve by direct evidence fundamental, factual questions relating to Presidential direction, knowledge or approval of actions demonstrated by other evidence to be substantial grounds for impeachment of the President. In refusing to produce these papers and things Richard M. Nixon, substituting his judgment as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry, interposed the powers of the Presidency against the the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, thereby assuming to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the sole power of impeachment vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.
The White House isn’t doing the standard tussling with Congress about oversight: some stonewalling, some negotiation, taking some questions of privilege to court. It’s more accurately characterized as massive resistance. The Congress has a constitutionally mandated responsibility to oversee the executive branch. They are flatly refusing to comply with ordinary document production and testimonial requests across the board. It’s not a difference of degree but of kind. In itself it is an impeachment worthy refusal to follow the constitutionally mandated framework of American government. It’s up to Democrats to make this clear.
Here’s the very simple bottom line: If a President can refuse to comply with the demands of a Congressional oversight committee–part of a co-equal branch of government– America no longer has checks and balances or the rule of law.
Checks and balances and the rule of law are the very foundation of the American constitution. Governmental legitimacy is defined as adherence to that government’s legal framework–in our case, the constitution. Trump’s defiance is thus evidence of his administration’s lack of legitimacy.
If the Senate, under the control of Mitch McConnell (aka the most evil man in America), fails to stand up for the prerogatives of the Congress, history–assuming we survive to have a history–will brand them traitors. Their first duty is to protect the Constitution and the Separation of Powers; the crisis Trump is precipitating requires them to stop cowering in fear of Trump’s ignorant, rabid base and discharge their obligation to protect America.
(Speaking of ignorance, Trump has said he’ll fight any effort to impeach him by taking the matter to his buddies on the Supreme Court–once again demonstrating his utter cluelessness about constitutional processes and American governance.)
It’s hard to argue with Josh Marshall’s analysis of the current impasse.
But as much as anything else this is a political conflict: how to bring to heel a lawless President. The big error I see so far is that these joustings are being treated as legitimate legal processes which must be allowed to work their way through conventional processes and the courts. That’s not right and it gives the President free rein to try to run out the clock on any sort of oversight. Democrats need to find a language for the political debate that makes clear these are not tedious legal processes which will run their course. They are active cover-ups and law breaking, ones that confirm the President’s bad acting status and add to his and his top advisors legal vulnerability.
There is no hope for Trump; the man is aggressively stupid, proudly ignorant and quite obviously mentally ill (and those are his better qualities!) He is a perfect example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
The only question that still remains open is: how many Republican Senators are genuine patriots and how many are self-serving cowards? We’re about to find out.