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An Administration Openly Defying the Law It is Supposed to Enforce

October 1, 2019


Today, according to the Washington Post, Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, declared that five current or former State officials would not show up for scheduled depositions before the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week. The depositions were part of the impeachment inquiry precipitated by Trump’s July 25 phone call to Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, in which Trump–according to the official White House memcon–demanded as “a favor” that Ukraine provide material to discredit the origins of the Russian election meddling investigation and to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. Yesterday, it was revealed that Pompeo, who previously had denied knowledge of the call, was actually present when the conversation took place.

This is just the latest in a series of outrageous refusals by the Trump White House to comply with lawful demands by House committees for testimony or documents that they are manifestly entitled to have. The administration instead has either flatly refused to turn over requested documents, or instructed current or former employees not to appear before the committees, or in the few instances when they did show up, as with Corey Lewandowski or Hope Hicks, instructed them to say nothing–which is exactly what they did. Perhaps the most egregious defiance was the refusal by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to deliver Trump’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee, as the law plainly requires him to do when requested.

Meanwhile, Trump has his personal lawyer (well maybe–the exact relationship isn’t totally clear) and, more ominously, his Attorney General scurrying around the world looking for something that would provide any shred of credibility for an alternative cover story that would delegitimize the Russia investigation, which Trump oddly insists totally exonerates him.  Meanwhile his actions continue to make him look like a passive patsy, if not a witting agent, of Vladimir Putin.

Trump has run the White House just as he did the Trump Organization, and indeed he has made the US government an extension of the latter. Just as he operated his businesses in closely held secrecy and skirted the edge of legality (often crossing that line), he has tried to run his presidency in the same way, hidden from public scrutiny. He staffed his government, as he did with his businesses, with people whose primary qualification was loyalty to him and made clear that he expected them to regard the agencies they were put in charge of as organizations to be gutted, looted, and turned to serving his and his supporters’ private agendas.

It is nothing short of amazing that to this day the American public knows next to nothing about the financial entanglements of Trump’s business enterprises (which he never divested) even though the press has turned up plenty of leads that point in the direction of suspicious sources of financing. Unlike previous presidents, we have no idea how rich he actually is, or where his money comes from, or who he owes money to, or whether he paid taxes and if he did, how much. The Mueller investigation inexplicably never went there. Now the House Ways and Means Committee has received “credible allegations” from a whistleblower (presumably at the IRS) of “‘evidence of possible misconduct’ — specifically, potential ‘inappropriate efforts to influence’ the mandatory audit program” with regard to Trump’s tax returns. Still nada from Treasury or the IRS.

Now Trump has gotten caught red-handed trying to extort a foreign government for his personal benefit. His response is to do what he has always done, which is to deny what is plainly in view, whine that he’s being persecuted for political reasons, make up counter-accusations, and assemble a platoon of expensive lawyers to intimidate his accusers and fight compliance with the judicial authorities, which in this case is the US Congress.

The difference is that this time, he sits in the White House, and his chief lawyer is the Attorney General of the United States, the man who heads law enforcement for the US Government. And the president is openly hinting at “civil war” if impeachment moves forward.

We, as a country, have no template for dealing with this situation. Watergate is the closest analogy, but this time the issues and what’s at stake are far more serious. (It’s worth observing that Nixon’s AG, John Mitchell, wound up going to prison.) The outcome ultimately depends on what Senate Republicans fear more: the wrath of Trump and his rabid rabble, or a majority of Americans who are simply fed up with this shit.

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