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Scholars: Congress Should
Rope-A-Dope Trump

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Donald Trump may be very unpopular, but those whose opinions matter right now are Republican Senators and so far, they are supporting him. Image by Tiburi.
By Not Rushing Into Impeachment Before All Of The Facts Are Clear, The Trump Opposition Will Prevent The President From Punching Himself Into An Impeachment Knockout

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By Karen Weil
Modern Times Magazine

May 23, 2019 — The Mueller Report, detailing how Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election, has been out for a month.

So far, only the redacted version has been available to the public.

Democrats in Congress want to see the whole thing — and the Trump administration is fighting that on every level, including by forbidding members of his cabinet from testifying.

House Democrats also want U.S. Attorney General William Barr to testify on the full report but he has refused to do so, which may result in a possible contempt of Congress. They also want Don McGahn, Trump’s former attorney, to find out whether the president did ask him to obstruct justice.

In the meantime, there’s also the issue of Trump’s tax returns, which House Democrats also want to see, via subpoenas.

This week, an internal Internal Revenue Service memo stated that Trump basically needs to turn over his taxes. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has refused to release the returns, leading to yet another strain on governmental institutions.

Now, the administration is arguing that lawmakers have no authority to examine how Trump has used executive powers — and on May 22, Trump angrily announced he wouldn’t work with Democrats on any legislation because of the investigations.

Potential court rulings aside, with the Trump administration refusing to cooperate with the House of Representatives on anything pertaining to alleged illegalities, what tools do Democrats have?

An attorney and former Congressional staffer recently discussed that during an American Constitution Society forum.

Alan B. Morrison, an associate dean at George Washington University Law School, has this advice for the Democratic-controlled House: “You need a plan, an order of battle and which cases you need to hear first.”

He added that Democrats must feel a real sense of urgency to begin hearings — otherwise the clock runs out, and the 2020 election season begins. “Surely it’s not enough for Congress to say, ‘We’re thinking about impeachment.’”

If Trump refuses to comply with court orders, it will make impeachment “front and center” – and make it harder for the Senate to refuse to go along. As of now, Trump has the U.S. Justice Department working as his lawyers, and that means Congress may need to pare down its requests for documents, Morrison said.

Donald K. Sherman, deputy director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said Congressional representatives take their authority to investigate alleged presidential crimes seriously, but can’t do their jobs if the Trump administration refuses to provide information.

Sherman said there is always value is seeking out bipartisan partners, but when it comes to Trump, the GOP will not cooperate.

It’s incumbent upon the House to find ways to connect these serious matters to “kitchen table” issues, said Sherman, whose governmental experience includes serving in various roles on the staff of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)

Congress never gets everything it asks for when it comes to documents, or testimonial evidence, Sherman said, but each chamber has different tools: For the Senate, it can be putting nominations on hold, although that rule has been weakened.

Sherman said while no administration likes oversight, previous ones have cooperated with Congress and found it useful for troubleshooting. However, Trump “is setting the bar for obstruction in a way we haven’t seen before,” which sets a negative example for future presidents, he said.

Such obstinate behavior can lead to a contempt of Congress citation, Sherman said.

Sherman cited the case of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, whom Congress voted to hold in contempt in June 2012 in connection with the controversial “Fast & the Furious” program.

Sherman said that many Obama administration officials were interviewed and ultimately, President Barack Obama used executive privilege in a narrow manner, by deciding to not prosecute Holder.

He faulted Democrats for not doing a better job in comparing the Holder controversy with how Barr is stonewalling Congress.

Most Americans would say it’s not a partisan issue to properly investigate security clearances, Sherman said, adding that many Democrats were elected last at year to provide a legitimate check on Trump.

The Trump administration has no respect for Congress as a co-equal branch of government, Sherman said. “Makes you wonder what they have to hide,” he said, adding that if the Mueller Report exonerates Trump, then why is Barr preventing Congress from seeing it.

The bigger problem is that if Congress doesn’t get the info it needs, it also can’t solve numerous problems, ranging from drug pricing to the U.S. Census, Sherman said.

The Ways and Means Committee is seeking Trump’s tax returns, based on 1924 statute allowing it access, Morrison said.

He added there isn’t a constitutional basis for the president to object, as it’s not a separation-of-power issue and because the returns were before he was elected. However, Morrison said a court will require some reason about why Congress would want Trump’s tax returns before demanding he release them. The House Ways & Means Committee should look at Trump’s returns to see what loopholes need to be closed and whether he benefited from the 2017 GOP-supported tax cut, Morrison said.

House Democrats have also requested that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller testify regarding his report. Morrison said his hunch is that once Mueller is no longer on the government pay roll, he’ll be free to speak.

Morrison said he feels sorry for Don McGahn, Trump’s former attorney, who seems willing to testify. The House will probably hear from him, despite Trump’s opposition, Morrison added.

Morrison said Congress needs to be concerned about how the Trump administration has handled security clearances. Senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was denied a security clearance last year, but Trump overruled the decision.

“If Kushner was denied, what information on him was there?” Morrison asked.
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