By Kenneth Tiven
U.S. President Donald Trump has once again maneuvered himself into very familiar territory: surrounded by angry people, he is using the threat of lawyers, courts and the expense of fighting with a “self-made billionaire” to stall all actions against him.
His opponents this time are not the usual contractors livid about an unpaid bill or a failed deal: it is the U.S House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress. With the threat of impeachment hanging in the air, the House has unlimited time and money to pursue Trump. Until then, the betting is that the voters of America will settle the matter in the November 2020 presidential election.
Trump’s twitter message stream indicates clearly that he is stung by the New York Times story that he lost more than one billion US dollars, based on information made available from federal tax returns in the decade 1984-1994. How? By defaulting on loans and investors and then claiming these losses as his, not theirs. What’s more, his Atlantic City casinos tanked and went bankrupt. In the eyes of most people, his cultivated image of a genius businessman stood diminished. But his most ardent supporters believe it is proof of his magical powers of survival. When Hillary Clinton raised these precisiely these same issues in the 2016 debates and charged him with using the losses to avoid paying future income taxes Trump replied.”It shows I’m smart.”
The world watches and worries because of the fear that, under this sort of pressure, Trump will force a distraction for America. Sending a Navy aircraft carrier to patrol off the coast of Iran or suggesting imposing severe trading tariffs on Chinese imports are said to be overtures in that direction. It is perhaps in consideration of campaign support from the rich NRI community in America that Trump has so far avoided antagonizing the Indian government.
While the Democratic-led House committees clamor for the unredacted Mueller report, Trump declares it out of bounds claiming “executive privilege.” Considering that Trump said the Mueller report “totally exonerates him,” what does this opposition hide? When Attorney General William Barr refused its subpoena, the House Judiciary committee voted to hold him in contempt of Congress, a legal action with an unspecified remedy. A bit superfluous perhaps because the Administration clearly views Congress with contempt.
Trump used the imposition of “executive privilege” as the rationale for not allowing the unredacted Mueller report to go to Congress. He also has prohibited Robert Mueller and his former White House legal counsel Don McGahn from answering Congressional subpoenas.
What this means for America is that the Doomsday Clock for Constitutional Democracy has clicked one hour closer to the autocracy the nation has avoided for 228 years. The concept is not mentioned in the Constitution, but arose in President Washington’s first term in 1796. The biggest challenge to the idea that the Executive branch can keep secrets from the Congress and the people got its latest test in 1974 around President Nixon’s fight against impeachment.
The Supreme Court understood the need for the privilege, but ruled that granting privilege on generalized claims in other than a national security or diplomatic matter “would upset the constitutional balance of ‘a workable government’ and gravely impair the role of the courts”. Because Nixon only claimed a generalized need for confidentiality, the Court upheld that the larger public interest in obtaining the truth in the context of a criminal prosecution by subpoena.
What today’s U.S. Supreme Court might rule is as shrouded as New Delhi on a high pollution day. What is clear is that a good many high-priced lawyers will be kept busy for weeks, if not months, arguing this in federal courts.
Can Trump’s team keep it going past the 2020 election? Possibly.
Can the investigating committees under Democratic control keep the pressure on Trump until the 2020 election? Probably.
Will the current issues, piled on top of two year’s worth of conflicts, make Trump’s reelection impossible? His first election seemed unlikely, so the answer is; who knows what America’s voters will do.
Humorists, satirists, even TV entertainment programs can’t keep their hands off Trump. The New Yorker magazine’s satirist took note of the latest British royal baby, stating, “The President is reportedly “seething with envy” and “furious” that another baby is suddenly getting all the attention, White House aides have confirmed.”