Trump Thumbs His Nose at Congress and the Constitution
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Trump Thumbs His Nose at Congress and the Constitution

His ‘Executive Privilege’ Claims Make No Sense

Terry H. Schwadron

I get that Donald Trump is annoyed by a Congress, by a Democratic House that wants to investigate his administration’s policies and decision-making.

While I may not agree with him, I certainly can understand that he wants things his way and his way only. His way, these days, is simply to say No to anything that House Democrats say they want to see.

But I just can’t quite get my head around why Trump would declare documents about adding a question to the U.S. Census subject to “executive privilege” and held private.

After all, Trump was very upfront about his thinking on the subject: “I think it’s totally ridiculous that we would have a census without asking,” about U.S. citizenship Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with the president of Poland.

What is the advantage to the White House to block access to the documents—other than to tell the Congress to shove its subpoenas?

Trump’s anti-immigrant feelings and actions are right out in front, a benefit of his presidency, he would argue, not a problem. So, of course, he wants to take credit for any actions that might deflate immigration foes.

Trump’s boastful remarks will be the source of his eventual demise; the power of the bad deeds people like Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III ascribe to him as the result of his own mouth. In an interview with ABC, Trump said he would consider accepting information about one of his 2020 political opponents from a foreign government, despite the concerns about legality, adding that he wouldn’t necessarily alert the FBI if a foreign country approached his campaign with “oppo research.” He said, “I think you might want to listen; there isn’t anything wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”

Unfit for Office

Isn’t this the sort of thing that makes someone unfit for the office?

Meanwhile, he is on the edge of throwing out the Constitution by blocking Congress from pursuing its duties. Most of the time executive privilege arises, it is because the White House has a reason to keep some information buttoned up. In this case, it appears that everything already is out in public. So what’s the advantage, other than the I-can-do-this-so-I-will attitude?

I know why I am interested. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Congress that the “sole” reason for adding the question was in support of efforts by the Department of Justice to enforce voting rights, an assertion almost laughable on its face. But it is apparent that Ross lied to Congress under oath, a crime.

It is hard to believe that Trump really wants to spend his credibility to protect Ross.

Barr Plays Chicken

It is also apparent that Atty. Gen. William P. Barr is playing Congressional Chicken with the House Oversight Committee over whether he can continue to delay the delivery of appropriate documents about the census question decision to the committee. Instead, the committee has voted to recommend that the House adopt a contempt citation for Barr and Ross, and it’s ready to take them to court for an order to comply with a congressional subpoena. This is more believable as a reason for Trump to act—basically because Barr asked him to do so.

And this conversation is playing out as papers and computer programs have come to light showing that the source of the question appears to be a North Carolina political operative for the Republicans whose files were opened after his death. His work showed that the distinct reason for raising the possibility of a citizenship question was the assumption that doing so would skew census results for the benefit of Republicans by keeping urban numbers down.  It is most believable that Trump doesn’t want the appearance of partisanship where he doesn’t need the charge.

The substantive issue is already before the U.S. Supreme Court, questions and arguments having been exchanged before the disclosure of the North Carolina information. The ACLU is trying to get the Court’s attention to the fact that there is new potential evidence in the case.

The idea here is that asking the citizenship question in a year in which fear of identifying any lack of U.S. legal documentation is running rampant will have a distinct damping of response among non-citizens. The U.S. Census asks residential information every 10 years to guide a wide-ranging set of government policy-making, from congressional seats and district lines to distribution of federal money. It is important.

Given all of the public nature of all of this, I ask again, what is the advantage to the White House to block access to the documents—other than to tell the Congress to shove its subpoenas?

It’s All About Trump

Trump seems to view executive privilege as personal privilege. If he doesn’t like it, Americans should not see it, smell it, touch it. So, testimony even that repeats Mueller Report evidence is verboten for Congress, as well as the reasoning for denial of climate change information on government websites, details about emergency program responses or information about military deployments—all issues well within the normal Congressional sphere of influence.

Basically, the Justice Department argues that the vote for contempt charges for non-cooperation was premature and a tactic to avoid negotiation. Rep. Elijah Cummings, the Democrat from Maryland who heads the Oversight Committee, says it is outrageous that the White House and administration has provided no information on almost any issue that the committee has requested.

For sure, the decision to invoke executive privilege has escalated the fight between the White House and the Democratic-controlled House.

A citizenship question has not been included in census questions for all U.S. households since 1950.

Trump is hiding. Can’t we hope that Trump at least stands by what he himself wants to defend—an attack on counting immigrants.

June 15, 2019