The dual and complementary concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances are fundamental to our republic. Embedded in the very fiber of our Constitution, these doctrines serve to ensure that no one branch of government becomes all powerful, that we will remain a republic.
Perhaps at no time in our nation’s history have these bedrock concepts been put to so strenuous a test. As Washington Post opinion writer Eugene Robinson recently observed, if the president and his campaign did not coordinate with Russia in its actions to interfere with our 2016 election, it was not for lack of trying.
Consider how many times members of Team Trump failed to disclose their meetings with Russian officials and emissaries. Consider, too, Trump’s evolving “explanations” for firing former FBI Director James Comey and General Flynn and the many reports of Trump badgering officials, elected and appointed, to stop investigating, to exonerate him of any wrong-doing, to turn their heads and sweep matters under the rug.
With the avalanche of reports on Russian meddling, Robinson cautions that we must not lose sight of the big picture, writing, “Ask yourself a common-sense question: If nothing wrong happened with Russia during the campaign, why is Trump so desperate to cover it up?”
If our Constitution is to endure, Congress must responsibly exercise its powers to serve as a check on the executive. When both houses of Congress are controlled by members of the president’s party, that need is not diminished, but enhanced. Members must put country before party. Anything less violates their oaths of office.
The president’s legal apologists have gone so far as to claim that the president cannot obstruct justice because he is the president. This nonsense loudly echoes Richard Nixon’s claim that, “If the president does it, it’s not illegal.”
History tells us that many members of Congress were loath to believe that Nixon obstructed justice in his attempts to cover up the Watergate break-in. At that dark time, unrelenting public pressure made a difference and ensured that the truth ultimately came to light. In Watergate, however, there was never a suggestion that members of Congress were complicit. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said today.
To date, we have repeatedly seen Trump – despite his protestations to the contrary – demonstrate that he has little intention of “fully cooperating” with the Congressional investigations. The most recent obstruction appeared as a White House directive that Steve Bannon refuse to answer questions from the House Intelligence Committee.
Up to this point, the House Committee has seemed not to be conducting a serious investigation focused on getting to the bottom of Russian meddling. But its willingness to subpoena Bannon’s testimony may, at long last, signal GOP willingness to move beyond charade.
The groundswell of grassroots activism that has emerged in response to congressional foot-dragging has been unprecedented in modern history. We must continue to demand that members of Congress do their jobs thoroughly and without partisan favor.
Now, more than ever, we must insist upon it.