USA Today: Trump administration could leave Congress no choice but an impeachment inquiry: Rep. Lieu
Donald Trump’s disdain for the law is no secret. Since becoming president, Trump has expended a large amount of energy trying to discredit the FBI, the special counsel, our nation’s intelligence agencies, state attorneys general and other law enforcement officials I’m probably missing.
The president’s new efforts to curb reasonable, legitimate congressional investigations are his latest foray into attacking the rule of law. Trump didn’t mince words when he said: "We're fighting all the subpoenas.” For someone who asserts he is innocent, he is notably unwilling to help investigations that would settle the matter once and for all.
In many ways this is an unsurprising next step for a president who engaged in 10 actions that could be viewed as obstruction of justice, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. The president continues to abuse his power to curb investigations into his potential abuses of power. Trump is a perfect example of why the Framers of the Constitution entrusted Congress with the authorities they did.
When the Founders created the legislative branch, they envisioned a governing body with the power to write laws, conduct oversight, and remove executive branch and judicial branch officials. Congress has been issuing subpoenas and investigating matters related to abuse of power or discreditation of our government since it was founded. To question this authority, as the president has done so vigorously, is to challenge one of the foundational principles of our democracy: checks and balances.
It is unfortunate that Attorney General William Barr has chosen to carry out Trump's attacks on the rule of law. Barr is unwilling to comply with a lawful subpoena or come before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions. We view it as critical that Barr come before our committee, especially given that Mueller was concerned about the summary of the report that Barr transmitted to Congress. And as of today, Barr is in direct violation of the lawful subpoena that requires him to provide the unredacted Mueller report and its underlying evidence to Congress.
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will likely take a vote on whether to hold Barr in contempt. If we do, the whole House votes on whether to hold him in contempt. If the House holds Barr in contempt, it triggers two actions. First, the House Office of General Counsel can litigate our case in court. Based on historical precedents from Watergate, in which the courts upheld subpoena power, Congress will win. Second, Congress has inherent contempt powers that we can enforce without having to go to the courts. For example, there is a congressional process that would allow us to levy fines on individuals whom we hold in contempt.
Barr is not the only administration figure to defy a subpoena from our committee. On Tuesday, the White House ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn not to comply with a subpoena from the Judiciary Committee.
Our nation is in a perilous time. We must take the Trump Administration's attack on our nation’s laws and norms seriously. If Trump can shirk laws that don’t suit him, then our country has no guardrails to keep us safe. Congress has a constitutional duty to ensure that Executive Branch officials are not able to wield their power with absolute impunity. We are a constitutional republic, not a monarchy.
As Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham once said of impeaching President Nixon: “the day Richard Nixon failed to answer that subpoena is the day that he was subject to impeachment because he took the power from Congress over the impeachment process and he became the judge and jury.” A subpoena is a tool that helps ensure Congress can gather information for the American people.
If the administration continues to disregard subpoenas, another method of information-collecting, as Chairman Graham outlines, would be an impeachment inquiry. The next steps we take in Congress will be determined by the Trump administration’s willingness to treat Congress as the co-equal branch it is, and to provide the American people with the truth.
Rep. Ted Lieu is a Democrat who represents California’s 33rd Congressional District. A former prosecutor in the JAG Corps, he is a member of the House Foreign Affairs and House Judiciary committees. Follow him on Twitter: @RepTedLieu