It has constitutional crisis written all over it.
But I’m not sure it will play that way with much of the public.
By vowing not to cooperate with a spate of House Democratic probes, President Trump is gambling that people are sick of the whole investigative culture and it won’t hurt him politically. And he’s also betting that having survived the Mueller investigation, he can make Congress look petty and partisan in pursuing what he dismissed yesterday as “nonsense.”
DOJ REJECTS SUBPOENA FROM HOUSE DEMS FOR TESTIMONY FROM TOP OFFICIAL JOHN GORE
The fundamental problem with this approach is that Congress is an equal branch of government. It doesn’t matter what Bob Mueller’s probe found, lawmakers have their own responsibility to oversee the executive branch, just as Republicans did during the Obama and Clinton administrations.
Still, Trump flatly told The Washington Post that he sees no reason to comply with the mounting Hill requests for testimony and documents. “There is no reason to go any further, and especially in Congress where it’s very partisan — obviously very partisan … I don’t want people testifying to a party, because that is what they’re doing if they do this,” he said.
The president was equally dismissive with reporters yesterday: “The subpoena is ridiculous … We just went through the Mueller witch hunt where you had really 18 angry Democrats that hate President Trump. They hate him with a passion.”
Among the issues: Trump is close to invoking executive privilege to block former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying under House subpoena.
McGahn became a key witness in the special counsel’s probe, testifying that he refused the president’s order to have Mueller fired and threatened to resign instead.
TRUMP VOWS TO FIGHT ‘ALL’ SUBPOENAS AGAINST ADMINISTRATION, CALLS DEMAND FOR MCGAHN TESTIMONY ‘RIDICULOUS’
Another House committee is threatening to hold former White House personnel security director Carl Kline in contempt for not showing up to testify about security clearances. Treasury is also resisting a House demand for Trump’s tax returns.
These battles tend to drag on for a very long time, often winding up in the courts. Richard Nixon famously used executive privilege to try to protect the Watergate coverup. But every modern president (and some not so modern) has clashed with Congress, usually with the opposition party, over hearings and investigations. For Barack Obama, it was Benghazi and Fast and Furious, among other issues.
The Democrats are naturally outraged by the Trumpian tactics, with Nancy Pelosi saying: “Now we see the administration engaging in stonewalling of the facts coming to the American people.”
What’s highly unusual about Trump’s approach is that rather than fighting one or two requests on specific grounds, he appeared with the Post to just make a blanket statement of noncooperation.
In fact, Axios quoted a “source familiar with the president’s legal strategy” as saying, “Trump can run out the clock by taking a hardline position. The president thinks it’s in his political interest to keep the fight going, and make it harder for the Democrats to have a coherent message.”
Trump told reporters that Congress should get back to dealing with issues. “These aren’t like impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020,” he said. This echoes what liberals said on Bill Clinton’s behalf during the allegations that led to his impeachment, that everyone should “move on,” which became the name of a left-wing group.
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But all of this may become background noise to average voters, already numbed by two years of constant investigations and media scrutiny of this president. They may not share the view that constitutional principles and the separation of powers are on the line. If the whole back-and-forth seems unduly partisan, many may dismiss the rhetoric as just more game-playing in a hyperpolarized capital.
Footnote: Trump got into an odd back-and-forth with Post reporter Robert Costa, who had tweeted: “President Trump called me this evening, in response to my request for comment on a profile story on a Trump World figure. After speaking on that topic, he took a few questions about his administration’s standoff with Congress. We’ll publish those remarks tonight.”
Yesterday Trump offered this Twitter taunt: “I didn’t call Bob Costa of the Washington Post. He called me (Returned his call)! Just more Fake News.”
Um, isn’t that what Costa said? Maybe Trump just didn’t like the story.