Opinion

Editorial: Trump just declared himself immune to congressional oversight

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President Donald Trump speaks on April 29, in Atlanta, Georgia.
(Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images)

When Democrats won control of the House of Representatives in last November’s blue wave, it seemed as if Congress might finally start performing oversight of the Trump administration after two years of see-no-evil Republican leadership. This week, however, the administration all but declared itself immune to such scrutiny.

Asked Thursday about a subpoena issued by the House Judiciary Committee for former White House Counsel Don McGahn, President Trump said, “We’re fighting all the subpoenas. Look, these aren’t like impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020. … The only way they can luck out is by constantly going after me on nonsense.”

That’s an outrageous and indefensible position. Congress has a fundamental constitutional role to play overseeing the executive branch; the president cannot simply announce that he will not be overseen, that his administration will not obey legitimate legal orders. He may be right about the political motives of some Democrats, but even so, a blanket declaration of noncompliance is extraordinarily irresponsible.

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And the administration is obstructing more than just inquiries related to the report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Earlier this week, the White House ordered Carl Kline, Trump’s former director of personnel security, not to comply with a subpoena from the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is investigating how Jared Kushner and several other Trump appointees wound up with security clearances despite the red flags raised by staffers.

This is bread-and-butter oversight, but the president now seems to believe that any question raised about his administration’s conduct is a partisan “witch hunt.” Instead, it’s merely the end of two years of indulgence and enabling at the hands of Capitol Hill Republicans.

If the president continues to resist legitimate congressional investigations, we will soon find ourselves in the sort of constitutional crisis that lawmakers faced when President Nixon resisted a congressional subpoena for his White House tapes.

And even on the Mueller-related matters, it defies credulity for the president to claim executive privilege over matters that his appointees have already discussed with the special counsel. Yet this president regularly flouts legal norms and even the rule of law, calling for political opponents to be prosecuted or discriminated against by federal agencies while his administration undermines or flatly refuses to enforce statutes and regulations it doesn’t like.

Trump argued Thursday that investigators’ true focus should be on his political opponents and on the “dirty cops” who helped trigger the Mueller probe. “That was a rigged system,” the president said. “I am breaking down the swamp. … I am draining the swamp.” Really? At least six of his top appointees have been dogged by allegations of acting unethically, favoring former employers or enriching themselves at taxpayer expense.

Congress paid little heed to the behavior of Trump and his appointees during his first two years. That’s changing now, and Trump can’t stop it.

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