Terry H. Schwadron
Feb. 9, 2019
To hear President Trump’s repeatedly dismissive tone, investigations by Congressional committees, now led by Democrats, into actions of the president, his family, his White House or the administration in general are tainted, partisan and unfair. Presidential harassment, he says.
To hear Speaker Nancy Pelosi respond is to hear the expected voice of pent-up frustration with two years in which Republican congressional committees failed to hold many of those same behaviors to account. She is speaking with an institutional voice of protecting the Congress’ right and duty to look into governmental stuff that looks fishy or worse.
The problem, like so many other things in Washington, is that the general doesn’t address the specific.
My general answer here is that if Trump can’t stand the heat, he ought to get out of the kitchen. The adage didn’t just appear out of nowhere. The reason it has become a trite saying is that its folksy truth applies in so many cases.
If you don’t want people to look too closely at your taxes, your policy-making, your poor vetting of candidates, your persistent patterns of lying publicly — your medical school yearbook — then remain in private business and don’t put yourself in the White House.
If you don’t want people asking questions about whether you pay no taxes over years, then pay taxes. If you don’t want questions about hiding funky family associations with international figures, then avoid them before you put yourself in the limelight. If you don’t want to be challenged on whether you tried to suborn witness testimony, or tried to skirt campaign finance laws, or tried to hide pay-for-silence deals with sexual partners, just don’t do it.
Trump is the first in line to see the hypocrisies in place in Virginia this week where all the top Democrats are busily trying to find ways to apologize, but stay in office after having been part of socially distressing racism or sexually assaultive behavior. But the real story in Virginia or in the White House is that if you don’t want to have to face questions, avoid the behavior in the first place.
As far as the Congress is concerned, with its new House majority, the pendulum is swinging back from two years of feeling the back of the hand from Republican committee chairs who acted to protect the President (and their own reelection campaigns) rather than seeking the truth.
There are different kinds of inquiries on the way:
One level of governmental oversight is just that. Can we get to the bottom of why we have high drug prescription prices or aggressive environmental rule churn that is leaving us with measurably worse clean air and water? Trump’s Cabinet members have been on a two-year tear to rip up environmental enforcement, to overturn labor law in business’ favor, to ignore bank overreach, to push for school choice at the price of our public schools. These should also include what exactly our policies are seeking in foreign affairs and in such domestic issues as criminal justice and those supporting institutional racism in housing, education and finance. Those all need “partisan” review; if not out and out bad policy, they are controversial policies that reflect the Trump administration goals and not, say, mine.
The next level is about bad behavior by Cabinet members. These investigations should include demanding answers from Homeland Security and Health and Human Services about how they lost track of thousands of children still separated from their parents at the border, as a good example. It should include the general issues of immigration altogether, where Trump administration policies have become increasingly aggressive towards immigration that is legal as well as illegal. These investigations should include whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has abused the Census by sneaking in immigration questions, and the degree to which government policies are supporting voter suppression efforts and gerrymandering.
Finally, there is a set of investigations that just seem needed on their face to ensure that the White House is not trying to obstruct justice in the Mueller and other related investigations through the hand of acting Atty. Gen. Matthew Whitaker, or examination of those who lied to Congress, or attempts at witness tampering, and the big policy question here — what can be done about stopping other countries from trying to intervene in our elections. That these investigations may necessarily include a look at the Trump taxes or the family business is only a side issue (or benefit) of a president who insisted on bringing his business affairs into the public job.
As yesterday’s initial skirmish between House Democrats and Whitaker show, there is a lot more about the optics of all this than about the actual substance. Assuming that Whitaker was truthful, there has been no interference for Trump into the work of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. On the other hand, Trump hadn’t needed to ask Whitaker about Mueller , since his opposition was out in the open. Yet, the testimony suggested, he has done nothing to act on his predispositions. OK, all of that was not “harassment,” it was good, old curiosity.
In any event, for Trump, in effect, to push Democrats to stand off is merely poking the bear. There is no faster way to bring Democratic insistence on investigating a weakened Trump than by telling them that they have no business pursuing investigations. Had Republicans carried on in a bipartisan or less partisan manner, Trump would not be facing the House investigations that already are promised. What was with all those Trump associates who now are convicted for lying to Congress and investigators?
Once again, we’re not setting out to solve a problem here. We’re out to make the President look good.
If you can’t do the time, the adage that Trump should probably revisit, don’t live out the bureaucratic (or other) crime.