Trump’s Face of Defiance

Terry H. Schwadron

April 26, 2019

While President Trump escaped criminal charges through the Mueller Report, he clearly has proved himself a persistent liar in the White House, an unrestrained egotist, and someone who has committed a variety of obstructive, if self-serving actions against the many investigations of his behavior.

Now we get to see Trump’s face of defiance in putting self-interest over normal governmental operations.

At first, he crowed about the Department of Justice decisions to forego any charges in either a Russia conspiracy or obstruction of justice. But as more of the report showed a White House that connives with the truth, his disposition has so soured as to make any continuing questions arising from the report a battle zone. Mueller’s team was tasked with finding fact amid the lies.

Trump’s reaction has been to burrow in and adopt a strategy of resisting all requests, calls and even subpoenas from House Democrats in exploring more about these charges — or any other aspect of his administration. Instead, he now is vowing to take each and every subpoena to court, ignore it, or seek eventual redemption from the Supreme Court over such issues as executive privilege, even for former employees like Donald McGahn, the former White House lawyer.

Trump seems tasked with asking people to ignore Mueller, then disputing the facts themselves.

Trump told reporters that he had been investigated enough. “I thought after two years we’d be finished with it,” he said. “No. Now the House goes and starts subpoenas.” He added, “I say it’s enough.” He also falsely stated that Mr. Mueller’s investigators “came up with no obstruction.” In fact, they laid out extensive evidence that he committed that crime several times but stopped short of deciding whether to accuse him of it only because the Justice Department considers sitting presidents temporarily immune from indictment.

Quite apart from Trump’s legal fate, this is not how I want my government to grind to a halt. It seems clear that no one wins in such a show of ill will, and that no one here can back down. Trump wants to run out the clock of the 2020 election with one act of personal resistance after another, each with a slightly different legal issue.

As I understand it, each official who refuses to attend — Stephen Miller, the immigration adviser, for example, could face personal legal problems as well as whatever foment follows for the White House. So too for the IRS guy, the security clearance official or anyone else called to explain government action. This is outlined in the Constitution, among other places.

Forget about impeachment, if this president is so wounded by what investigators have found, about what his own staffers report about his overwrought need to protect himself so completely, why should I see him as fit enough to lead this country through national emergencies?

The New York Times accounting of the refusals to meet subpoenas starting this week — one for his taxes, one for McGahn’s testimony, one for explanation of the granting of security clearances in the White House — shows a presidency tilting dangerously now toward authoritarian controls.

“Together, the events of the week made clear that Trump has adopted a strategy of unabashed resistance to oversight efforts by the House — reveling in abandoning even the pretense of trying to negotiate accommodations and compromise with the institution controlled by his political opponents. ‘The president is attempting to repeal a congressional power of oversight that goes back to the administration of George Washington,’ said Charles Tiefer, a former longtime House lawyer who is now a University of Baltimore law professor. He said “the comprehensiveness and intensity of this presidential stonewalling” exceeded anything he had seen in his 40-year career.

He added: ‘Congress can call witnesses about problems with the executive branch anytime. Otherwise there is no check on whether the executive branch is doing the public’s work or just exercising raw power.’

On Twitter, the president said he would pushing back against any impeachment proceedings if House Democrats tried to move forward with them by getting the Supreme Court to order them to stop. “If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Trump wrote over two posts. “Not only are there no ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ there are no Crimes by me at all.”

Nothing in the Constitution or American legal history gives the Supreme Court a role in deciding whether Congress has misidentified what counts as a high crime or misdemeanor for the purpose of impeachment.The White House’s legal team has not put forward any legal theory for why executive privilege — the president’s power to keep secret certain internal executive branch information — would ban the kind of testimony the House Judiciary Committee is seeking from McGahn. Indeed, Trump waived executive privilege early to let Mueller freely question McGahn about conversations with the president, and Atty. Gen. William P. Barr made McGahn’s accounts public by disclosing most of the special counsel’s report.

Legally, the record is pretty mixed about presidential authority to resist congressional calls for information. We can expect time-consuming deliberations and appeals on each, a process that will last months or longer.

House Democrats face pressures to issue contempt of Congress citations and initating court actions for compliance, clearly time-consuming, legally and politically contentious processes.

The Washington Post editorial board said, “Trump’s own words reveal that he is motivated not by any specific concern about protecting presidential decision-making or some other crucial executive-branch function — but by concealing anything that might land him in political jeopardy. Courts have said little on the limits of executive privilege, but judges have been skeptical that the president has a generalized interest in secrecy that outweighs legitimate investigative inquiries.”

It feels as if our situation is worsening.


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