Trump's Defiance of Congress on Subpoenas Escalates

This has 'constitutional crisis written all over it,' writes one pundit
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 25, 2019 11:05 AM CDT
Big New Debate in DC Is Over the Word 'Stonewall'
President Trump thinks Congress is overreaching.   (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The White House and Congress are embroiled in a growing fight over Congress' ability to force officials in the executive branch to testify. Democrats in Congress see the White House resistance as a violation of checks and balances laid out in the Constitution. But President Trump says House Democrats are abusing their power for political gain ahead of the 2020 election. A look at coverage, in which "stonewalling" is a now common theme in headlines:

  • Trump's view: The president is making no secret of his strategy. "We're fighting all the subpoenas," he told reporters Wednesday, reports NBC News. "These aren't, like, impartial people." In a separate interview with the Washington Post, Trump said he'd fulfilled his obligations by allowing aides to talk to Robert Mueller. "There is no reason to go any further, and especially in Congress where it's very partisan—obviously very partisan."
  • Counter-view: It's voiced by Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat. "If Trump is allowed to get away with ignoring Congress, then, in effect, we no longer have a representative system of government," he said, per the Post. "We have more like a monarchy. That's exactly what our framers wanted to prevent."

  • The refusals: The New York Times ticks off some big recent ones: The White House won't let Justice Department official John Gore discuss the addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census; said it doesn't want former counsel Don McGahn to testify about the Mueller report; and advised personnel official Carl Kline to defy a subpoena to discuss security clearances. The Treasury Department also defied an order to turn over Trump's tax returns, and Trump's legal team is suing over the pursuit of financial records.
  • Stephen Miller, too: The House Oversight panel asked Trump aide Miller to appear voluntarily before the panel because of his role in shaping immigration policies. It won't happen, reports CNN. White House counsel Pat Cipollone cited a "long-standing precedent" for staffers (as opposed to, say, Cabinet secretaries) to refuse such requests. He added that other officials would make a "reasonable accommodation" to appear.
  • In context: Disagreements between the White House and Congress have happened regularly in previous administrations—recall that House Republicans even held Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt in 2012, notes Politico. Still, this "blanket defiance of the Trump administration has reached a new level," writes Dylan Scott at Vox.
  • The big question: A Lawfare podcast cited by Vox notes that Congress' ability to subpoena members of the executive branch to get information has never been explicitly defined by the courts.
  • The strategy: Axios quotes a source familiar with Trump's legal strategy as saying the president "can run out the clock by taking a hard-line position." That is, even if he loses the legal fights over testimony, those fights might drag out after the 2020 vote.
  • Will it matter? The showdown has "constitutional crisis written all over it," writes Howard Kurtz at Fox News. Kurtz happens to think that Congress has every right to issue these subpoenas, but he's skeptical the public, "already numbed by two years of constant investigations and media scrutiny of this president," will care much. "They may not share the view that constitutional principles and the separation of powers are on the line," he writes. "If the whole back-and-forth seems unduly partisan, many may dismiss the rhetoric as just more game-playing in a hyperpolarized capital."
(More White House stories.)

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