Considering Donald Trump’s embarrassing ignorance of the Constitution, it’s not surprising that he is now advancing a position that flagrantly breaches one of the foundational principles in the document. Trump’s White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, sent a letter to Jerry Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, that totally obliterates the notion of co-equal branches of government.
Rep. Nadler had previously sent requests to eighty-one individuals and entities for documents pertaining to his committee’s investigation “into the alleged obstruction of justice, public corruption, and other abuses of power by President Trump, his associates, and members of his Administration.” These are serious matters that factor into the President’s ability and legitimacy to govern. And they are squarely within the jurisdiction of Congress to investigate. Which makes the response by Cipollone all the more peculiar. He wrote that:
“The White House will not participate in the Committee’s ‘investigation’ that brushes aside the conclusions of the Department of Justice. […] Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation, not to harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized ‘do-over’ of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice.”
First of all, the Committee did not “brush aside the conclusions of the Department of Justice.” Rather, it sought to complete a process that had not come to any conclusions. In fact, the report by special counsel Robert Mueller for the Justice Department, explicitly left it up to Congress to pursue any further investigation. And the White House is not empowered to declare that investigations by Congress that they don’t like are “unauthorized.”
But Cipollone went even further than that. In his refusal to cooperate with the Committee, he asserted that:
“…it is not the Committee’s legislative function to conduct a detailed inquiry into a particular event or series of events in order to construct a precise picture of the facts.”
Really? That’s a twisted interpretation of what are permissible congressional investigations. Congress has always had the responsibility of conducting oversight of the executive branch in order to maintain the lawful exercise of governing authority. If Cipollone’s argument were operative there could have been no investigations into Watergate or 9/11. The Republican chaired hearings on Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s emails would have been improper. Even the new hearings called for by GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham into the origins of the Trump/Russia probe would be beyond the jurisdiction of Congress.
But what’s really troubling about this is the White House position that they have the power to dictate the authorities of Congress. Trump thinks that he can simply declare that Congress isn’t allowed to investigate him, and then decline to cooperate in the investigation. That’s not how the Constitution defines the roles of these bodies and the separation of powers. But it is how tyrants seek to impose their will in countries that reject freedom and democratic rule of, by, and for the people.
So naturally Trump is trying to assume the mantle of the tyrant and force Congress – and the nation – to submit to his will. Hopefully, Congress and the courts will not allow him to get away with subverting American democracy with his aspirations for a monarchal reign of terror.