President Trump has embarked on a strategy of stonewalling, defiance and constitutional nihilism. With stunts such as blocking former White House counsel Donald McGahn’s testimony, he has announced that Congress is not entitled to hear from witnesses relevant to the already substantial mound of evidence of obstruction of justice nor get tax returns that the law says “shall” be turned over to Congress.
“Defying congressional subpoenas as a strategy — especially without even a colorable legal argument, and Trump has none that I can see — is surely yet another act of obstruction,” says constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe. “Just recall Article III of the Articles of Impeachment against Richard Nixon, the Contempt of Congress Article, which focused on obstruction of just this form. In this instance, Trump’s announced defiance of facially legitimate subpoenas (including his insistence that all his current and former White House employees defy in lockstep) rests on no plausible claim of executive privilege or attorney-client privilege and, indeed, on nothing beyond what a dictator would say: ‘I’m in charge here, and I say I’ve done no wrong, as has the puppet I’ve installed to head my Justice Department, so I see no reason to cooperate with a Congress whose politics I dislike.’” He adds, “That’s about as blatant an obstruction of the lawful processes of a coequal branch of government as I’ve ever seen.”
Obstructing an inquiry into obstruction of justice is quintessential Trump. He laughably calls himself the most transparent president ever, despite his refusal to make available all of the information, to sit for an interview with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and to come clean on his own actions (from paying off an adult-film star to telling his White House counsel to fire Mueller).
The Post reports on Trump’s newest suggestion: going to the Supreme Court to stop impeachment:
It was unclear how Trump would legally justify such a move, since the Constitution delegates impeachment proceedings to Congress, not the courts. Trump mentioned the idea briefly in morning tweets in which he lashed out at Democrats who are continuing to investigate him following the release of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report.
“I DID NOTHING WRONG,” Trump wrote. “If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court. Not only are there no ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ there are no Crimes by me at all.”
It’s more than unclear — it’s absurd. The Constitutional Convention considered the role of courts in removal of the president and instead decided to assign that role solely to Congress. Even this Supreme Court would be compelled to ignore Trump’s plea.
There is no purpose in raising this cockamamie scheme. To the contrary, by suggesting the courts have a role in the president’s hold on his office, he undermines the one thing that kept Mueller from indicting Trump: the Office of Legal Counsel’s ruling that you cannot indict a sitting president. Hey, if Trump wants to open all this up to the courts, perhaps Mueller should reconsider his argument against making a prosecutorial judgment.
Trump quite obviously has little to no grasp of the Constitution. He apparently hasn’t read the Mueller report, and aides haven’t explained the 10 instances of potential obstruction Mueller outlines. Trump tweets:
But Mueller’s report makes clear Trump “engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation” that included trying to fire the special counsel and trying to get McGahn to lie about being told to fire Mueller. (He now wants to prevent McGahn from testifying that Trump told him to lie about being told to fire Mueller. The obstruction hall of mirrors is dizzying.)
As Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare points out:
Most importantly, the issue of the president’s motives and intent—in contrast to the muddiness of that question in some of the prior episodes—is crystal clear. The reason is that there is no other basis for the president’s attempted action other than to stymie the investigation. Trump was specifically advised that his stated concerns about conflicts were frivolous. Unlike with the [James] Comey firing, where Trump was mad about Comey’s refusal to make a public statement and the action could be seen as retaliatory, there was no issue with Mueller other than the fact that he was running the investigation. What’s more, the action took place specifically in response to the news that the president was, in fact, under investigation after all. As Mueller writes, “The evidence accordingly indicates that news that an obstruction investigation had opened is what led the President to call McGahn to have the Special Counsel terminated.” Trump’s subsequent efforts to get McGahn to deny the story, as Mueller writes, “are contrary to the evidence and suggest the President’s awareness that the direction to McGahn could be seen as improper.” Intent here is super-clear.
Trump has little understanding of the Constitution — and to the extent he has any, he refuses to recognize how it disagrees with him. He likewise has very little understanding of what’s in the report — and to the extent he has any, refuses to acknowledge findings that directly contradict his claim of “exoneration.” Ignorance of the law and facts makes Trump particularly dangerous. He seems to have reached the point at which he recognizes no constraints (reality, valid subpoenas).
In lashing out in such fashion, he’s making the case for impeachment stronger (What else to do since he refuses to comply with the law?) and making Republicans’ support of this constitutional nihilist for reelection in 2020 even more problematic.