“I don’t do cover-ups,” President Trump boasted in the Rose Garden on May 22 after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asserted that Trump is guilty of cover-ups.
Who are you going to believe, the President or the House speaker?
Lies are cover-ups because they purposely hide the truth. Fact-checkers show Trump has lied or made false claims over 10,000 times since becoming president. Cheating on his wives is a cover-up; so is denying that he dictated a memo for Donald Jr. about the purpose of the Trump Tower meeting with Russians in June 2016. Cheating on his golf scores is a cover-up. Paying off a stripper and a Playboy bunny hush money is a cover-up. Withholding his tax returns from Congress, after having promised to release them after the presidential campaign, is a cover-up.
Telling the American people, as Trump has done repeatedly, that the Mueller Report shows “no collusion, no obstruction” is a blatant cover-up belied by the report itself. An example: Trump denies he told his White House attorney, Don McGahn, to fire Mueller, which McGahn wisely disobeyed because as an officer of the court he recognized he would be guilty of a crime were he to accede to the President’s wishes, and then ordering McGahn to write a memorandum claiming Trump was innocent of issuing such an illegal order, is another cover-up.
To assert that Trump is a liar and a thoroughly immoral and unethical person is simply descriptive.
But the lies greater than perhaps any that Trump himself has told are the lies that Trump supporters continue to tell themselves. Trump “tells it like it is,” Trump cares about forgotten Americans, Trump will make America great again, Trump is strong.
Trump is probably delusional, but his die-hard supporters are guilty of gross hypocrisy. His GOP base cheered during the Clinton presidential years (1993-2001) when over 1,000 subpoenas were issued by the GOP-controlled House to gather information to impeach Bill Clinton; yet they grumble today when the Democratic majority in the House issues any subpoena to gather information that may help build a case for impeaching Trump. Trump supporters cheered on House oversight in the Clinton years but today are mute whenever Trump orders his attorney general or former White House counsel or other minions to ignore lawful subpoenas.
Trump seems to think that oversight of the sort that Speaker Pelosi believes is squarely within the authority granted to Congress by the Constitution — an authority reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court and rendered as statutory by legislation passed in 1946, 1970 and 1974 — is illegitimate whenever Democrats try to hold a Republican president accountable.
Former President Woodrow Wilson once wrote that “vigilant oversight” by Congress is “quite as important as legislation” precisely because our Constitution was written by men skeptical of the concentration of power in any one branch of government and because the American Revolution marked a massive popular rejection of the concentration of power in a king. Hence, we have checks and balances and the creation of three co-equal branches of government, each keeping a close eye on the work of the other branches. Each branch effectively has oversight over the others: pragmatic mistrust is institutionalized in our Constitution.
The Mueller Report concisely affirms this civics lesson: “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president’s corrupt exercise of the powers of his office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” (Vol. 2, page 8)
Trump the real estate developer has often boasted how much he loves to go to court. Now that he, with the guidance of the ultra-conservative Federalist Society, has worked diligently to pack the federal courts with Trumpistas who yearn for a super-strong executive branch, congressional authority to issue subpoenas and contempt of Congress citations will be tested in the judicial branch of government. Let us hope that even Trump-appointed judges will follow the law and not the President-who-would-be-king.
Roger Bowen is director of the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows and a former professor of political science at Colby College. He lives in Prospect Harbor.