Donald Trump successfully made the State Department’s — and Hillary Clinton’s — failure to turn over all emails demanded by Congress a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign. “When is she going to release her emails?” he would demand, prompting “lock her up!” chants at rallies by saying Clinton defied a “congressional subpoena.”
And now, how many State Department emails has the Trump administration released as required by congressional subpoena?
Hold on, let me tally it up . . . Zero! Not a single one.
And not just State: The Energy Department, the Pentagon, Rudy Giuliani and the White House have all defied subpoenas and refused to provide any documents, while the administration has ordered officials not to testify and, in some cases, has confiscated officials’ notes and records to keep them from being provided to Congress.
There have always been document disputes between presidents and Congress. But this is the first such blanket refusal at least since Watergate, when Congress made the refusal itself an article of impeachment. If Trump succeeds — Republican lawmakers have, so far, defended the refusal, while courts have moved slowly — it will mean no future president would feel compelled to turn over a single document to Congress. Future Republicans would be unable to investigate the next Whitewater, Fast and Furious, Solyndra, IRS targeting or Benghazi.
During the Fast and Furious gun-trafficking scandal, the Obama administration turned over (both voluntarily and by court compulsion) more than 65,000 pages of documents. It provided more than 300,000 pages of documents for the Solyndra bankruptcy inquiry.
The Republicans’ Benghazi report boasted that it had access to 107 witnesses, including 57 from the State Department, 24 from the Pentagon, 19 from the CIA, the national security adviser and her deputy, and Clinton herself. They received 75,000 documents (on top of 50,000 from previous batches): 71,640 from State, 300 from the CIA (including messages not “generally made available to Congress”), 1,450 from the White House, 179 from Sidney Blumenthal, 900 from the Pentagon and 750 from the National Security Agency.
Even then, Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio (now leading Trump’s defense) and Mike Pompeo of Kansas (now Trump’s stonewalling secretary of state) complained that the White House “left large holes in the investigation by denying the committee access to documents and witnesses.”
Republicans on the Benghazi committee argued: “Congress’s authority to oversee and investigate the Executive Branch is a necessary component of legislative powers and to maintain the constitutional balance of powers. . . . When needed information cannot easily be obtained — or if government agencies resist — Congress has legitimate cause to compel responses.”
And those were ordinary probes — not impeachment, which bestows more constitutional authority on Congress.
In their candid moments, Republicans grant that the impeachment inquiry poses legitimate questions. “All of that is alarming,” Rep. Mike Turner (Ohio), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told CNN after the release of a deposition transcript. “This is not okay."
Yet there was Turner at Thursday’s impeachment hearing, repeatedly denouncing Democrats and the witnesses for turning up “hearsay” evidence. He accused former National Security Council official Fiona Hill, a witness, of testifying about “things that you heard about other people . . . which were not necessarily true.” Said Turner: “No matter how much we believe we know that what we’ve heard is true, it is still just what we’ve heard.”
That’s rich. After supporting the administration’s attempt to keep key figures — Giuliani, John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney — from testifying, they dismiss as “hearsay” the testimony of those who cooperate. After supporting the administration’s refusal to comply with subpoenas for documents, they claim there is insufficient evidence implicating Trump.
Why? The few documents cooperating witnesses have brought with them, in defiance of Trump’s orders, have been damning. This week, Defense Department official Laura Cooper told the impeachment panel of two emails showing Ukrainians were aware on the day of Trump’s now-infamous call with Ukraine’s president that U.S. aid had been suspended — knocking out the key Trump defense that the Ukrainians didn’t know until later.
Two emails, one dead talking point. No wonder Trump’s approach to emails has a familiar ring: Lock them up!
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