The Constitution is under attack. An attack so brazen that it is likely to do significant long-term damage to our country’s ideals, values, mores, and the rule of law.
Mr. Donald J. Trump is in full attack mode trampling on all that we used to hold dear. In the meantime, the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, sit idly by either endlessly filled with angst over what they should or should not do (hello Democrats!) or aiding and abetting the president in his relentless pillaging of our Constitution (I’m talking to you Republicans).
I just do not get it. Why is no one acting?
While wringing their hands over whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, the Democrats worry about the political implications for the 2020 election. They fear that starting impeachment proceedings will hand Mr. Trump a victory in the next election. I fear that by not acting — hey guys! remember that you won an historic election in 2018 because the majority of voters wanted you to put a check on his shenanigans? — they will hand Mr. Trump the election. Part of their logic is that with the Republican controlled do-nothing cowering Senate Mr. Trump would never be convicted. Perhaps. However, the calculation should be that spelled out in the Constitution — there is abundant evidence that he indeed committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” — and not some political calculation on who will or will not get elected as a result. Politics should not play a part in a decision to impeach or one not to impeach.
Congress! Do your job! Nay, it is more than do your job. It is do your duty to uphold the Constitution. Anything less is dereliction of that duty.
What more does it take? Everyday there is a new assault on our values and our laws. The list is too long to enumerate here, but remember a few of Mr. Trump’s greatest hits.
- “Individual 1” — Mr. Trump’s lawyer Mr. Michael Cohen is serving three years in jail for, among other crimes, violating election laws by paying hush money to two mistresses of Mr. Trump’s to stay silent about their affairs because it could impact the election. The judge in the case, Judge William H. Pauley III said in open court in New York that Mr. Trump directed his attorney (Mr. Cohen) to commit a federal felony. He is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.
- Obstruction of Justice — In his report, which he followed up with a remarkable public statement from the Department of Justice building, Special Counsel Robert Mueller made it abundantly clear that if the president had committed no crime, he would have so reported. As he said in the report and in his remarks, “if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”
- Russia interfered with the election to aid Mr. Trump — In his report and remarks, Mr. Mueller makes it abundantly clear that the Russians did interfere with the election. A fact that the President resolutely says did not happen. As Mr. Mueller noted, “Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information, and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to interfere in the election.”
- Collusion — According to the Mueller Report, members of the Trump Campaign met over 100 times with Russians known to be agents of, or to have connections to, the Russian government, including the famous Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016. As we all know, the word “collusion” was never used in the Mueller Report. However, yesterday the president said that he would collude again with a foreign power given the chance. In an interview with ABC news in the Oval Office no less, he said in response to a question about receiving damaging information from a foreign power that he would take it. “I think you might want to listen, there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘we have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it. It’s not interference, they have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d maybe go to the FBI. If I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research.” When asked about FBI Director Wray’s testimony to Congress that any political campaign should report foreign interest in that campaign, Mr. Trump replied, “The FBI Director is wrong. Because, frankly, it doesn’t happen that way in life.”
- Actively undermining the Constitution — As explained in a Washington Post opinion piece by Mr. George Conway and Mr. Neal Katyal — both conservative attorneys — on Tuesday the Trump lawyers filed a brief to prevent turning over documents relating to Mr. Trump’s taxes and other financial dealings. Without getting too far into the legal weeds (although maybe all of us should start doing so), the basis of the Trump argument is that Congress has no oversight authority with respect to the president. In particular, the brief argues, Congress has no business “trying to prove that the President broke the law.” They say that the Executive Branch holds the power under the Constitution for law enforcement, therefore Congress can do nothing. This of course denies our country’s history where Congress has exercised oversight, including investigations of law breaking, since its founding.
- Active law breaking — Today, White House Adviser Kelly Anne Conway was found to have consistently and continually broken the Hatch Act. (The Hatch Act prohibits political activities and speech while acting in a government position.) The opinion handed down by the independent Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) says that she should be fired from her position. (It is worth noting that the head of the office was nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by voice vote in the Senate.) The response from the president and Ms. Conway is to scoff at the law and the OSC finding. As Ms. Conway put it when previously asked about her actions under the Hatch Act “Blah, Blah, Blah. If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
In a country where we like to say that no one is above the law, the president and his advisers are. Mr. Trump could indeed shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it as he famously said during the campaign.
I think that we all must remember that Mr. Trump and the president are the same person. I only say this slightly tongue in cheek. What I mean is that we have become so accustomed to Mr. Trump’s outrageous statements — perhaps even amused by them — for so long including before he even considered running for president that they tend to get lost in translation. Mr. Trump saying such things is harmless. The President of the United States saying them is incomprehensible. Or at least it used to be. There is no longer gravitas in presidential statements. There is no longer acceptance of presidential pronouncements as true or binding. There is no longer respect for the office from nations around the world. There is no longer a presumption that the president will follow the Constitution. All of that may be ignored by our fellow citizens. Just remember, however, that he still has the power. And the unencumbered use of that power to follow one of his harebrained ideas could be devastating. Those that know him from long before his presidency say without hesitation that he will do anything to help himself. Anything. Think about that with someone with Mr. Trump’s mind set and the president’s power.
Even Mr. Mueller believes the president is above the law. Certainly Attorney General Barr thinks so. Re-read Mr. Mueller’s remarks last month about his report. He explains in detail why there was no indictment of the president. While a president may be investigated, he said that “under long-standing Department policy, a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view—that too is prohibited. The Special Counsel’s Office is part of the Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was bound by that Department policy. Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
So there you have it. The president is above the law. Mr. Trump knows it. We can expect his behavior to become increasingly autocratic as he continues to eviscerate Congress. (Note the increasing instances of declaring a “national emergency” to circumvent the will of Congress concerning Mexico, Saudi Arabia, immigration, arms sales, tariffs, and other actions.)
But, but…. Mr. Mueller did point out that there is a way to hold a president accountable. In his spoken remarks he said “the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.”
In other words, impeachment.
Negative precedents are being set almost daily by this administration and especially by the president himself. We as a country will have to live with future presidents that hold themselves above the law should this president get away without being held to account. Whether or not he gets re-elected the precedents he sets, left unchallenged, will stand.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful elected official in the land behind only the president. She must use that power under the Constitution to articulate why Mr. Trump’s actions are not only abhorrent on their moral face but also that they are crimes.
The president is a criminal. We must hold him accountable. Do your duty.