President Trump has set a very hard line against cooperating with congressional investigations involving himself, denying basically every request for disclosure or testimony. It has been up to those beneath him to figure out how to make it work, practically and legally.
It isn’t going well so far.
Trump’s deny-and-delay strategy has rather quickly run into a series of setbacks. To wit:
- A federal judge last week practically laughed at a Trump lawyer’s argument that Congress had no authority to investigate a president for corruption unless it pertained to legislation. The judge soon ruled Trump’s accounting firm must give his financial records to Congress.
- Another federal judge on Wednesday denied the Trump team’s requested injunction to block congressional subpoenas for his banking records from Deutsche Bank and Capital One.
- NBC News reported that two other financial institutions, TD Banks and Wells Fargo, have already provided information about their financial dealings with Trump.
- The New York legislature on Wednesday passed a bill, which will soon be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), giving Congress access to Trump’s state tax returns.
- The Justice Department at the last minute Wednesday acceded to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff’s (D-Calif.) request for redacted material and underlying evidence from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. Schiff was threatening to enforce a subpoena against Attorney General William P. Barr to get the information.
- The Washington Post reported Wednesday that a confidential draft memo from inside the IRS found that the Treasury Department had to furnish any tax return Congress requested. Similar to the legal argument over Trump’s financial records, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has withheld Trump’s returns by saying Congress needs to have a legitimate legislative interest. The memo, though, allows for no such exception.
Most of these won’t be the final words on the matters involved. Trump’s legal team can and will appeal the first one. The second was just about a temporary injunction and is also subject to further legal action. The New York bill is subject to legal challenge. And the IRS draft memo was never the official position of the agency.
But all of these things taken together underscore that Trump’s absolutist strategy toward blocking Congress from gathering information is extremely bold and subject to plenty of defeats. When you declare “We’re not turning anything over” and leave it to those around you to figure out how to construct their own portions of the stonewall, you’re bound to lose plenty. When you argue Congress has no right to investigate you for corruption — even though Congress has long investigated presidents for corruption (think: Watergate and Whitewater) and even though the Justice Department has recognized Congress’s “investigatory powers” — you’re attempting to create a really ambitious new precedent.
Then again, Trump’s strategy here was never really about winning all of these battles. As The Post’s Philip Bump has written, it’s more about delaying things and drawing out the clock ahead of the 2020 election. And if he wins a few, all the better.
As with most things Trump, the only thing preventing him from pursuing this aggressive deny-and-delay strategy is shame or political blowback. And Trump has shown a remarkable capacity to avoid both of those things. If you’re not going to pay a price with your core supporters, after all, why not throw a whole bunch of stuff at the wall and hope it sticks?
Trump declared Wednesday, “I don’t do coverups” — despite a long history of obscuring alleged sexual affairs, misleading about the Trump Tower meeting, and reports indicating he inherited his father’s wealth through what the New York Times declared to be “outright fraud.” Whether there’s anything that needs covering up, we don’t know. But if there is, it’s not going swimmingly so far.