Sometimes painfully obvious things – must be discussed. Is there no integrity or respect for the Constitution left in Congress? Two events occurred last week that present a stark contrast. They highlight how low Senate Democrats will stoop to topple Trump – and, in the process, inflict damage on our Constitution for political gain.
Only July 9, the US Supreme Court issued a 7-2 slip opinion, in Trump v. Mazars, which essentially held that Congress cannot harass a president – for example by issuing subpoenas to third parties (in this case big banks) to dig up family finances – without a “valid legislative purpose.” Two dissenters – Justices Thomas and Alito – took a tougher view, effectively calling out House Democrats for blatant intimidation. See: https://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/19-715_febh.pdf.
In short, the Supreme Court vacated three subpoenas from Democrat-led House Committees, remanding the case back to a lower court. Near unanimity in this holding makes clear no one on the current Supreme Court believes congressional oversight authority should be weaponized.
Behind this ruling is a deep concern – for integrity of the constitutional processes of legislating and congressional oversight. Without wallowing in legalisms, the Court effectively said Congress cannot take politically motivated “pot shots” at a sitting president, disingenuously arguing they are for legislating.
Instead, the Court articulated – in profound and compelling ways – that random subpoenas of third parties for information unrelated to legislation or a crime amount to political overreach. They are invalid. Absent evidence of a crime from a prosecutor, or a credible legislative purpose, these subpoenas were nothing more than a sloppy attempt at intimidation.
Of course, the Court did not use those words. The majority dressed their opinion in non-political terms. They could hardly call out an attempted Pelosi-putsch. The majority said, while the president did not exert any executive privilege, they saw no “valid legislative purpose” for the Democrat subpoenas.
Moreover, “Congress may not issue a subpoena for the purpose of ‘law enforcement,’ because that power is assigned to the Executive and the Judiciary,” and “recipients of congressional subpoenas retain their constitutional rights and various privileges…”
The majority also focused on “separation of powers,” in effect scolding House Democrats for not abiding constitutional norms. They found no “demonstrated, specific need” for the information. While Congress has limited oversight authority, the authority cannot be stretched.
On presidential powers, the Court noted all presidents possesses “executive privilege” – for important, enduring reasons. “Executive privilege safeguards the public interest in candid, confidential deliberations within the Executive Branch,” and “information subject to the privilege deserves ‘the greatest protection consistent with the fair administration of justice.’”
If the rest of the opinion makes good constitutional reading, two take-aways stand out: Congressional overreach for political reasons is not just amateur, ill-advised, and embarrassing, but unconstitutional. Second, respect for separation of powers – between the legislative and executive branches – is serious business, and important to the integrity of our constitutional process.
That is why the other big event last week – Senate Democrats boldly trashing separation of powers for political gain – is so striking. Specifically, “Senate Democrats are demanding they be allowed to see any copies of intelligence briefs that were presented to President Trump regarding evidence that Russia was paying the Taliban bounties for attacks on U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.” See https://www.bing.com/search?q=demand+senate+democrats+letter+trump+intelligence&form=EDGEAR&qs=PF&cvid=fbc4dd6a7b454811981e5a29496002ce&cc=US&setlang=en-US&plvar=0&PC=DCTS.
Knowing “Presidential Daily Briefs” (PDBs) are sensitive presidential documents and protected by executive privilege; knowing intelligence chiefs say President Trump was not briefed; knowing that military commanders could not validate the information, Senate Democrats still insist on it.
Even former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Secretary of State, National Security Advisor to Ronald Reagan, Obama supporter and no fan of President Trump – Colin Powell – cautioned Democrats and the press were off course.
Calling media reactions “almost hysterical,” Powell noted “military commanders on the ground” did not deem these reports a “serious problem,” and detractors “kind of got out of control” before data was “analyzed,” “attested,” viewed as real. See: https://www.foxnews.com/media/colin-powell-media-hysterical-russia-bounties-afghanistan.
So, what are these Senate Democrats doing? Like their House colleagues, they are out for blood, want to take President Trump down, are creating stalking horses wherever opportunity allows.
Meantime, they are boldly dissing the Supreme Court – the entire Court. They are effectively saying, separation of powers be damned. We have a political axe to grind and we will grind it. We demand the private briefs, to which we know we likely have no right. It is all about politics.
Behind their letter “demanding” the presidential briefs – for politics – lies a Democrat threat to subpoena them, which would of course go to the Supreme Court, which would of course deny the claim. Even more than Mazar documents of third parties, these briefs are likely protected.
Congressional Democrats do not care. It is a blood game now – a grand, rolling, irreverent, constitutionally indifferent attempt to sink this president. Is there no integrity or respect for the Constitution left in Congress? Contrasts like this one – a clear Supreme Court ruling and letter effectively blowing it off – certainly make you wonder.