The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), has dropped a subpoena on Donald Trump, Jr., firstborn son of the current president, so he may “answer questions about his previous testimony before Senate investigators in relation to the Russia investigation,” according to Axios. News of the subpoena came scant breaths after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Kentucky) did his version of George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” number by announcing that all matters pertaining to the Mueller report are over and done with, never to be spoken of again.
Here was Mitch doing his tobacco-state best to circle the wagons before a steadily encroaching enemy. The White House has slammed the gate shut on any and all congressional oversight, including lawfully issued subpoenas from House Democrats on issues ranging from Mueller’s work to the upcoming census, and this proclamation was McConnell doing his part. The White House has also revoked the press passes of almost every journalist who covers the White House. If a constitutional crisis takes place and the press can’t report on it, did it happen?
This is why the timing of Senator Burr’s subpoena to Don Jr. — the first such issued to a family member of the president, making it dynamite wrapped in plastic explosive stuffed down the gullet of a dead skunk — is strangely amusing if you have a thing for gallows humor. Trump and his people have made it abundantly clear that any congressperson brandishing a subpoena can take a flying copulation in a gravel driveway, yet this Republican Senate committee chairman wants to slide one under the door so the eldest son of the Republican president can answer some “collusion” questions Trump would have us believe have already been settled.
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There are moments when you must simply close your eyes, lean back, and let it all waft over you like smoke from a latrine fire. It just can’t be this weird, right? Oh, hang on, Trump has invoked executive privilege to thwart the release of the full Mueller report to Congress, even though that report, by his own shouted words, exonerates him completely. Ditto the testimony of former White House counsel Don McGahn. We are not through the looking glass, people. The looking glass is through us, like an errant javelin hurled at a drunken track and field meet.
Hovering over it all is the freighted “I-word,” impeachment, the necessity of which grows conspicuously with each passing hour. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–California) and her “centrist” congressional allies tremble at the very idea because they believe they have to make everyone like them all the time if Democrats are going to defeat Trump in 2020 (the correct answer is “50 percent plus one,” but I digress). Even now, however, that ground is falling out from under their tepid feet.
Once a consensus that impeaching this rogue president is a constitutional obligation has been reached, which I do believe is inevitable given the china-shop bullshit this administration has been running since Democrats took the House, the question turns to how it can be done. It is difficult to gather testimony and evidence when the guard at the White House gate sets fire to every subpoena that comes along.
The challenges to these subpoenas will all wind up in court eventually, and that’s where impeachment itself can lend a very helping hand. The Trump administration’s court argument will likely boil down to “No legislative purpose,” i.e. all these Democratic House chairs are asking for Trump’s taxes, the unredacted Mueller report, testimony from officials, and other matters for political purposes only.
This is fragile ice to skate on, as oversight is an essential aspect of the legislative branch’s constitutional obligations. The administration’s lawyers will spin that platter regardless of the nonsense baked into the argument, and if they come across a friendly judge (Justice Kavanaugh & Co., your table is ready) willing to legitimize it, the whole concept of congressional oversight could be rubbished. In any event, the court fight over “legislative purpose vs. just politics” could drag on for months, if not years.
Unless, that is, the “legislative purpose” of the subpoenas is established so vividly as to be utterly beyond dispute. Officially opening an impeachment inquiry would accomplish this immediately. In the context of an officially declared impeachment process, House Democrats would have every legislative purpose for reviewing the tax returns, the unredacted Mueller report, as well as any other area where Trump’s behavior appears to rise to the level of an impeachable offense. There is even an argument that says Democrats need only claim they are contemplating impeachment for the “purpose” threshold to be reached.
The moral and constitutional arguments for impeachment are self-evident; Rep. Jamie Raskin (D–Maryland) kindly provided a recent refresher course for those in need of a reminder. The politics of impeachment are frightening to Speaker Pelosi and her allies, and the idea of a protracted court slog is daunting. Yet this president cannot be allowed to slap down lawfully issued subpoenas, and Congress must defend itself from the irrelevance his administration would foist upon it.
Impeaching Trump to thwart his obstructionism, therefore, is a simple and clever solution, and a delicious one to boot: Stop his obstruction with impeachment, and then impeach him for obstruction. It seldom gets more perfect than that.