Every child, unhappy about being told what to do, at some time looks a parent straight in the face and says, “Make me!” The chairmen of committees in both houses of Congress are facing that time. They must decide to be the adults in the room.
After the 2018 midterms put Democrats in control of the House of Representatives, relations between the legislative and executive branches turned confrontational. They boiled over after the release of the Mueller report.
The most basic responsibility for any citizen of a democracy is agreeing to the rule of law. Democracy can’t work without it. This week, that boiling confrontation offered an object lesson in the meaning of the rule of law.
Courts use subpoenas to ensure that law takes precedence over personal decisions and desires. Ignoring a subpoena results in contempt of court rulings, followed by the pain of a fine or jail time. After those, the subpoena is still enforced. That is how the rule of law works.
Recently, committees in the House of Representatives requested by subpoena that several people associated with President Trump appear for questioning by them. The IRS was told to turn over several years of his tax returns.
None of it has happened. The White House has said no one has to appear because of “absolute immunity.”
That term has no legal meaning. A court ruled last week that Congress has the constitutional right to call any witnesses it deems relevant. The judge refused to step on that right.
On Monday, a federal judge ruled that Trump could not block a congressional subpoena demanding that his accounting firm turn over his tax returns.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post exposed an internal IRS memo pointing out that Congress has the right to ask for any tax return it wants and that the Treasury Department must comply.
On Wednesday, another federal judge ruled that Trump could not block his former lender, Deutsche Bank, from complying with a congressional subpoena for records of transactions with him.
The weight of those decisions by different judges in the federal legal system should be sitting heavily on the Trump administration, but his belligerence in the face of those judicial decisions seems to signify that he has little respect for the law.
The game Trump is playing is “make me.” Shockingly, he’s playing it with the cooperation of the attorney general and the secretary of the treasury, who are both charged with enforcing the law. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is defying the law outright and should suffer the consequences.
These are not issues of partisan politics or witch hunts. They are not issues of presidential discretion or legislative overreach.
Congress has the absolute right to issue subpoenas that must be obeyed. The subpoenas are part of the checks and balances in American government that insure that a president may not become a dictator.
The committee chairmen involved should move immediately and with all the means available to enforce the subpoenas.
In a democracy, no one can be above the law.