The constitutional crisis precipitated by the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency has reached a new inflection point with the revelation today by Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, that “the White House has not turned over a single piece of paper to our committee or made a single official available for testimony during the 116th Congress,” according to the congressman’s op-ed in today’s edition of The Washington Post.
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After the 2018 midterm elections put a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, the Trump administration has faced real oversite by a constitutionally co-equal branch of government for the first time — Republicans having essentially ceded any investigations into the swamp of corruption and foreign intrigue generated by Trump, his unelected family members, and his cronies.
In typical fashion, Trump has declared that the legitimate exercise of the House of Representatives’ constitutionally mandated oversight function is in reality “Presidential Harassment” — a risible claim from the man who spent eight years spewing racist conspiracy theories about the birthplace of Barrack Obama.
In his op-ed today, Cummings says that the administration is doing everything it can to obstruct his committee’s inquiry.
“The problem is that the White House is engaged in an unprecedented level of stonewalling, delay and obstruction,” he writes.
The Oversight Committee chairman relates how he has “sent 12 letters to the White House on a half-dozen topics — some routine and some relating to our core national security interests,” in response to which the Oval Office has refused to cooperate in any measure.
Cummings cites the many questions over the irregularities in the issuance of White House security clearances which are vital to ensuring national security. Rather than attempting to ensure that the existing policies and procedures are reviewed to guarantee that our executive branch isn’t compromised somehow, the Trump administration has fought to prevent the committee from obtaining the information it has requested.
“The White House argues that Congress is not entitled to any information about individual employees, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying about his communications with the Russians; current national security adviser John Bolton, who worked directly with the gun rights group founded by now-convicted Russian spy Maria Butina; or the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was reportedly given access to our nation’s most sensitive secrets over the objections of then-White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and others,” Cummings writes.
“Instead, the White House offered to let us read — but not keep — a few pages of policy documents that have nothing to do with the officials we are investigating, along with a general briefing on those policies during which they will answer no questions about specific employees.”
In the committee’s inquiry about the hush money payments during the 2016 campaign to buy the silence of Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal after their adulterous affairs with Trump, the administration “refused to turn over any of the documents we requested. Instead, officials let us read 30 pages, about half of which were already public or entirely blacked out,” Rep. Cummings reveals.
Congressman Cummings goes on to enumerate a long list of other areas where the White House has actively fought against providing the requested information, “including White House officials’ alleged use of personal email in violation of federal law; allegations that the president may have violated the Presidential Records Act by destroying documents; and reports from whistleblowers that the administration allegedly rushed to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in violation of the Atomic Energy Act.”
He also compares the actions of the Trump administration to that of previous White Houses:
“As a reminder of what used to be “normal,” previous presidential administrations turned over tens of thousands of pages of documents in response to Oversight Committee investigations under both parties just a few years ago. The George W. Bush White House gave us more than 20,000 pages relating to Hurricane Katrina; numerous documents and witnesses relating to the leak of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity; and nearly 1,500 pages of emails between senior White House officials about the death of Pat Tillman. Similarly, the Obama White House produced many documents and emails relating to the Solyndra controversy, as well as witnesses and documents regarding the Benghazi, Libya, attacks, including communication between top White House officials and National Security Council staff.”
While these previous administrations understood their constitutional duty to comply with oversight requests from House committees, Cummings attributes the failure of the Trump WHite House to comply with is requests to “a decision at the highest levels to deny congressional oversight altogether. The president dictated this approach the day after the election when he threatened a ‘warlike posture’ against Democrats and then vowed that, at the end of two years, ‘I’m just going to blame them.’”
In concluding his op-ed, Representative Cummings makes a bold accusation against the President and points to how he will move his investigations forward.
“President Trump’s actions violate our Constitution’s fundamental principle of checks and balances. If our committee must resort to issuing subpoenas, there should be no doubt about why. This has nothing to do with presidential harassment and everything to do with unprecedented obstruction,” Cummings ends his piece, rightly placing the blame on the president.
To citizens observing the power struggle between government branches play out from the sidelines, Trump isn’t helping any perception of innocence on his administration’s part by refusing to cooperate with Congress. All he is doing is increasing the level of suspicion that he has an awful lot to hide.
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