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Where Will Trump’s Obstruction Obsession End?

The White House is steering the United States toward a constitutional crisis

Donald Trump, Melania Trump. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before leaving the White House in Washington, for a trip to Atlanta with first lady Melania Trump to participate an opioids summitTrump, Washington, USA - 24 Apr 2019

The White House is determined to fight every congressional subpoena, effectively steering the United States toward a constitutional crisis.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The Mueller report laid out a detailed, multi-pronged case suggesting President Trump obstructed the work of the government’s judicial branch on several occasions. Since the special counsel’s findings were released last week, the administration has been busy trying to obstruct the legislative branch’s authority to provide oversight. Their latest attempt to gum up the works came on Wednesday, when the White House informed the House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) that Stephen Miller will not testify before the committee about his role in shaping Trump’s immigration policies.

The rejection is not surprising; in the letter to Cummings, the White House cites precedent for staff to decline testifying before Congress. But as Cummings noted in his request last week, Miller, a senior policy adviser, seems to have an overlarge role in dictating the administration’s approach to the border. “[I]t appears that you are one of the primary moving forces behind some of the most significant — and in my view, troubling — immigration policies coming out of the Trump White House,” Cummings wrote.

The declination comes the same week the White House said it will fight a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee for former White House Counsel Don McGhan to testify. McGhan was referenced repeatedly in the Mueller report, which stated that Trump instructed him to fire Mueller, and then lie about it. “Substantial evidence … supports the conclusion that the President went further and in fact directed McGahn to call Rosenstein to have the Special Counsel removed,” the report read.

On Thursday morning, Trump denied the findings while bashing the report, which he has done incessantly since its release.

If Trump’s claims are true, he shouldn’t oppose McGhan — who has no reason to lie under oath about his interactions with the president — testifying.

The subpoena for McGhan to testify was filed on Monday by Judiciary committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY). “Mr. McGahn is a critical witness to many of the alleged instances of obstruction of justice and other misconduct described in the Mueller report,” he wrote in a statement. “His testimony will help shed further light on the President’s attacks on the rule of law, and his attempts to cover up those actions by lying to the American people and requesting others to do the same.”

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the White House plans to fight the subpoena, as well as all other congressional request for figures mentioned in the Mueller report to testify. The White House have said that they plan to stymie the testimony by exerting executive privilege, which could be a hard case to make considering they neglected to assert it over McGhan’s testimony to the special counsel’s office, which was reflected in the Mueller report.

Trump spoke on the issue later on Wednesday. “The subpoena is ridiculous,” he told reporters. “I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country by far. We just went through the Mueller witch hunt where you had 18 angry Democrats, that hate President Trump, they hate him with a passion. How they picked this panel, I don’t know.”

“We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” he added. “These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.”

It’s not just the Mueller report. On Monday, Trump went so far as to sue Cummings over a subpoena he issued to obtain Trump’s financial records from the accounting firm Mazers USA. The lawsuit parroted the president’s claims that Democrat-led attempts at oversight are nothing more than dishonest efforts to score political points. “The Democrat Party, with its newfound control of the U.S. House of Representatives, has declared all-out political war against President Donald J. Trump,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. “Subpoenas are their weapon of choice.”

That’s not all Trump has done to keep his financial records away from Congress. Last month, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) submitted a request for six years of Trump’s tax returns, which the committee is legally allowed to do as part of its duty to provide oversight over the IRS. Federal law states explicitly that the IRS “shall” comply with the request, but it doesn’t appear that’s going to happen. The IRS is overseen by the Treasury Department, which is run by Trump lackey Steve Mnuchin. Mnuchin already missed the initial deadline Neal set for compliance. The second deadline was Tuesday. Mnuchin missed that, too, saying he would respond by May 6th, writing to Neal that the department “cannot act upon your request unless and until it is determined to be consistent with law.”

When Trump was asked if he planned to turn over his returns, as the law requires, he brushed it off. “I would not be inclined to do that,” he said.

The end result of Trump’s rampant obstruction looks to be a constitutional crisis that is likely to persist up to — and if the president has his way — well beyond the 2020 election. Either way, it could come down to the courts. If they’re faithful to the law rather than Trump’s belief that he has absolute power, their decision should be clear. “Defying congressional subpoenas as a strategy — especially without even a colorable legal argument, and Trump has none that I can see, is surely yet another act of obstruction,” Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe told the Post following the administration’s attempt to stonewall McGhan’s testimony. “That’s about as blatant an obstruction of the lawful processes of a coequal branch of government as I’ve ever seen,” he added.

Hopefully the Supreme Court agrees.

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