The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pelosi assails Trump for ‘unconstitutional’ acts in new messaging campaign

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) leave the White House Tuesday after speaking to reporters and meeting with President Trump.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) leave the White House Tuesday after speaking to reporters and meeting with President Trump. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is sharply escalating her criticism of President Trump following a rare day of bipartisan talks at the White House, rolling out a messaging campaign Wednesday that casts the man in the Oval Office as trampling the Constitution and “sabotaging checks [and] balances.”

The new push — laid out in a document that will be distributed to Democratic offices — argues that Trump’s flagrant attempt to block congressional oversight is “immoral, unethical, corrupt and unpatriotic.” The three-page packet also accuses Trump of “blanket, unprecedented stonewalling” that is “unwarranted and unconstitutional” and “is part of a . . . growing pattern of obstruction.” 

“The president’s disdain for rule of law and the Republicans’ complicity in his abuses of power are doing lasting damage to American democracy,” the document reads, later adding: “Congress is a co-equal branch of government, intended to serve as a check on executive power and prevent the rise of a tyrant. Preventing Congress from exercising any oversight as the president intends fundamentally impairs the balance of power.” 

The release of the Pelosi memo followed reports that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III confronted Attorney General William P. Barr about his characterization of the Russia investigation. Rank-and-file House Democrats on Tuesday night were salivating over the prospect that Mueller — whom they’ve asked to testify on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks — had accused Barr of misconstruing his findings on whether the president tried to obstruct justice. 

Mueller in his investigation found 10 cases of potential obstruction of justice by the president but said he did not feel he had the authority to litigate the matter, appearing to kick to Congress to handle the issue. Barr, however, had announced weeks earlier before the report’s full release, that while Mueller did not answer the obstruction question, he did not believe Trump obstructed justice.

Trump Organization and family sue Deutsche Bank and Capital One to block congressional subpoenas

The intensified tone of Pelosi’s rhetoric toward Trump followed a day of rare bipartisan discussions at the White House. Trump, Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and a handful of Democrats emerged from a White House meeting Tuesday morning and announced intentions to hash out a massive infrastructure deal.

It created an unusual, alternative-universe dichotomy in Washington, in which Democratic investigators fumed at the president — even mused that they might consider jailing or fining obstinate Trump officials — while Pelosi engaged with him diplomatically.  

Pelosi’s language in the new memo, however, closely tracks with the complaints lodged by her chairmen in recent days. The panels probing Trump, in fact, helped craft the document.

Pelosi has told her caucus it is premature to start impeachment proceedings and has suggested previously that Trump is “not worth” trying to oust. But a growing crop of Democrats is starting to question that logic after Trump last week vowed to “fight all the subpoenas” from Capitol Hill. 

Additionally, Trump’s personal attorneys and administration officials have already made good on that promise since Democrats took the House, denying chamber investigators documents and interviews they’ve requested — even suing one panel chairman and subpoenaed entities in court to block any and all oversight. 

The no-cooperation strategy has infuriated chairmen and members of the investigative panels, increasing calls for impeachment among the rank-and-file Democrats despite the lack of public support for proceedings at this time. Democrats who support the push to oust the president argue that those polls will change once they make the case to the public about Trump’s alleged infractions. 

Smack in the middle of the debate is Pelosi, who often talks about public sentiment being the strongest guide and armor for any Democratic policies. Pelosi told Democrats privately Monday night that Trump is “making the case” for obstruction himself, but her office has launched the new campaign to highlight problems it perceives.

The Pelosi document attempts to point out to voters that Trump’s refusal to comply isn’t just about matters related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election or allegations of obstruction of justice. They also deal with policy and pocketbook issues that affect voters’ bottom-lines.

The memo says the Trump administration has “denied or delayed” information or testimony regarding the following: the administration’s decision to try to strike down Obamacare, including preexisting condition protections, in the courts; the separation of migrant children from their parents at the border; and allegations that Mar-a-Lago Club members “asserted influence over” Veterans Affairs Department matters.

The memo talks about how White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who has crafted many of Trump’s strict immigration policies, won’t show up to answer questions from lawmakers, and it dings the secretary of Health and Human Services for refusing to answer questions about family separation matters. 

White House plans to fight House subpoena of former counsel Donald McGahn for testimony on Mueller report

The document highlights how the Justice Department last week ignored a subpoena for testimony as part of Democrats’ investigation into the 2020 Census. Pelosi also accuses the administration of “undermining national security” by stopping a decade-long practice of giving members on the Homeland Security panels briefings on nationwide threats.

The points, of course, also highlight some of the findings in the special counsel’s report — and, especially, Trump’s move to try to block key witnesses who cooperated with the probe from testifying publicly about the 10 potential areas of obstruction identified by Mueller.

“President Trump is taking extraordinary and unprecedented measures to conceal information about himself and to cover-up his administration’s dangerous and secretive activities from the public,” it reads.

Pelosi also knocks the administration for “violat[ing] 30 years of presidential precedent” by refusing to turn over Trump’s tax returns. Under the law, Congress has always had the ability to request the tax returns for any American. 

“The president was elected to serve the people, not rule behind closed doors,” the document reads. “Transparency is critical to a healthy democracy and every American should be alarmed by the president’s behavior.”