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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Hail, Caesar

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's dishonesty and his record of disregarding the rule of law.   The update  -- just published --includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms.

LLoyd Green at The Daily Beast:
Donald Trump thinks Congress has as much clout as a potted plant.

William Consovoy, the president’s personal lawyer, told a federal judge on Tuesday that Congress was powerless to hold the president’s feet to the fire, and that the Watergate and Whitewater hearings exemplified congressional overreach. As for a House committee’s subpoena to Trump’s accountants, Rep. Elijah Cummings and all those damn Democrats might as well pound sand. The Oval Office was out of bounds for congressional oversight—even in the face of presidential corruption.

Hail Caesar! Hello praetorian. As Consovoy saw things: “That is law enforcement… Are you complying with federal law?… I don’t think that’s the proper subject of investigation as to the president.”
According to Cosovoy’s Kafkaesque syllogism, Congress is barred from investigating the president because that is a proper function of law enforcement, not Congress, and in turn, law enforcement may not investigate President Trump because he is immune from prosecution.
Confused? That’s the point.
After the court hearing, our constitutional democracy stands at the precipice of being transformed into an updated version of ancient Rome, helmed by a leader who demands unaccountability for himself and tribute from the rest of us. As for Congress in this script, think part rubber stamp, part tax collector, and part tourist attraction.
Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney at Politico:
A federal judge raised pointed doubts Tuesday about arguments by President Donald Trump’s legal team that a Democratic effort to subpoena Trump’s financial records was an invalid exercise of congressional power.
Amit Mehta, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington, indicated that he would have trouble ruling that Congress’ goal in accessing the president’s records was unconstitutional — as Trump’s lawyers have argued — and he underscored that he believes Congress has a significant “informing function” that doesn’t necessarily require an explicit legislative purpose to justify an investigation involving the president.Does Congress have to do that — do they have to identify a bill in advance? The Supreme Court has said the opposite,” Mehta said during a round of questioning with Trump’s attorney William Consovoy during a hearing.
Consovoy argued throughout Tuesday’s hearing that Congress has no basis for investigating whether Trump’s financial disclosures are accurate, contending that it’s a “law enforcement issue” that’s not tied to a specific legislative agenda.
Mehta cast serious doubt on those claims, suggesting at one point that investigations of such financial violations are “strictly” under Congress’ purview and that the courts have “very little, if any” discretion over Congress’ asks.
Bart Jansen at USA Today:
Mehta didn't indicate whether he found those reasons sufficiently persuasive to block the House subpoena. But he suggested history might not be on the president's side, saying courts had not found that Congress overstepped its subpoena authority since 1880 and questioning Trump's lawyers about the basis for previous investigations of presidents.

...

At one point, Mehta asked whether Congress could investigate if the president was engaged in corrupt behavior in office.

“I don’t think that’s the proper subject of investigation as to the president,” Consovoy said, although executive agencies could be investigated.

Mehta sounded incredulous, asking whether Congress could have investigated Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon's resignation, and Whitewater, which led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment. Consovoy initially said he’d have to look at the basis for those investigations.

“They were inquiring as to violations of criminal law,” Mehta said. “It’s pretty straightforward – among other things.”

Consovoy said the question is whether the legislation the committee cited was a valid reason for the subpoena.

“That is still law enforcement," Consovoy said.

But Douglas Letter, the general counsel for the House, argued that Congress has broad investigative authority.

“His main client, President Trump, has taken the position really that Congress and particularly the House of Representatives is a nuisance and we’re just getting in his way when he’s trying to run the country,” Letter said. “The problem with that is that this is a total and basic and fundamental misunderstanding of the system that is set up by the Constitution.”