WASHINGTON, May 7, 2019 — Whether it’s a lawful request for President Trump’s tax returns from the House Ways and Means Committee chair, a Judiciary Committee subpoena for a former White House official, or a routine request to have a cabinet secretary testify at a routine Appropriations Committee hearing, the Trump administration has had a consistent message for oversight-minded members of Nancy Pelosi’s caucus: You have no authority because you’re Democrats.
Since Trump took office in January 2017, his administration has routinely instructed agencies to not respond to document requests and inquiries from Democrats, who then made up a minority in both the House and Senate. Though unprecedented, the White House characterized the move at the time as being consistent with how past administrations dealt with the minority party in Congress.
And while Democrats might have expected this to change when they took control of the House of Representatives on January 3rd, President Trump and his administration appear to have rejected the very legitimacy of oversight by a body controlled by members of opposing political party.
Instead of recognizing Congress as a co-equal branch of government with legitimate oversight authority, Trump has frequently railed against what he calls “Presidential harassment” and ordered administration officials not to turn over documents or give testimony on all sorts of matters that would normally fall under the Legislative Branch’s purview.
As a result, Democratic committee chairs have been stymied in their efforts to obtain even the most mundane information about agencies they are supposed to oversee, leaving House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., to reveal that as of earlier this year, the Trump administration had not turned over “a single piece of paper” in response to requests from the Democratic majority.
Tax request rejection puts Mnuchin opposite law
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin became the latest Trump official to reject the idea that a Democratic committee chairman had the authority to make a request of him, even one specifically provided for by statute.
In a letter to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., Mnuchin declared that he would not obey a century-old provision in the Internal Revenue Code requiring the IRS to honor Neal’s request for six years of President Trump’s tax returns, because the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”
While Mnuchin’s denial of Neal’s request stands out because it is in violation of a clear provision in existing law, his reason for denying Neal’s request is consistent with language used to justify previous refusals to comply with both routine document requests and subpoenas issued by committee chairs.
Cummings, for instance, received a letter last week from the office White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, informing him that in Cipollone’s determination, the Oversight Committee’s request for documents related to President Trump’s decision to override career officials by ordering that his family members be given Top Secret security clearances despite their extensive foreign ties “fall[s] well outside the realm of legitimate congressional information requests.”
Cipollone had previously derided the Oversight Committee’s probe into how Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, were granted Top Secret clearances as an “improper” investigation which “has no valid legislative purpose, and clearly is a mere pretext to harass and intimidate dedicated public servants.”
Official says Dems’ oversight authority doesn’t allow looking back
One senior administration official BeltwayBreakfast spoke with explained that the Trump administration views a request with a “legitimate legislative purpose” as one that is solely “prospective in nature,” which seeks “information or documents that you are gathering in order to write a new law or change existing law.”
But when asked if the White House had deemed any Democratic oversight request legitimate enough to warrant a response, the official could only point to a briefing on security clearance procedures which the White House held for House Oversight Committee staff.
That briefing, which did not include any information on how Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner had received their clearances, was later cited by the White House as a reason to deny Democrats’ requests for documents.
The official denied that political considerations have played any role in the administration’s refusal to comply with Democratic document requests or subpoenas, and instead characterized the White House’s response as “pursuant to a longstanding tradition of accommodation where there’s a back-and-forth negotiation over a what exactly, the committees are doing oversight on.”
But other White House officials — including the President himself — have repeatedly attacked Democrats’ oversight efforts as unnecessary acts of partisan overreach, serving no purpose except to dig up dirt with which to damage a Republican chief executive.
On matters pertaining to Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, the White House has argued that because Mueller received countless documents from the White House and Trump campaign, as well as testimony from numerous administration officials, there is no need for the White House to subject any current officials — or even former ones, in the case of McGahn, who returned to private practice at Jones Day last year — to what both Trump and advisers like Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway have characterized as a “partisan” investigation.
In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Trump even went so far as to characterize a Democratic-led House as an arm of a political party instead of one half of the Article I branch of government.
“I don’t want people testifying to a party, because that is what they’re doing if they do this,” he said.
GOP disdain for Dem voters key, historian says
Geoffrey Kabaservice, a historian and author who has written extensively about the Republican party, told BeltwayBreakfast that he attributes the Trump administration’s attitude towards Democrats’ oversight efforts to a worldview held by those “on the far-right fringes” of the GOP, who see the Democratic party as inherently illegitimate because of their reliance on voters in urban areas, many of whom are not white.
“The feeling is, you know, that the Democrats represent only that part of country [living] in the cities, which is unrepresentative of the country. And they rely on the votes of immigrants and many people who voted illegally, and therefore they do not actually represent the majority of the country and…should not be pursuing this kind of investigation,” said Kabaservice, who is currently director of political studies at the Niskanen Center.
Experts call White House posture ‘ridiculous,’ ‘absurd,’ ‘bizzare’
As for the White House’s contention that the only legitimate exercise of oversight authority is prospective, longtime Senate aide Jim Manley had only ridicule for such a notion.
“Based on my years of experience, I have no idea what that senior White House official was suggesting,” said Manley, who spent four decades working for a succession of senior Democratic senators, including Harry Reid, D-Nev., Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and George Mitchell, D-Maine.
Manley stressed that Congress’ oversight responsibilities include both prospective oversight towards writing new legislation, and retrospective oversight of past events. He noted that there had been several prominent examples of retrospective oversight while the House was under Republican control, pointing to investigations GOP chairmen conducted into the Obama-era Justice Department’s “Operation Fast and Furious” and the 2012 deaths of American foreign service members in Benghazi, Libya.
To think otherwise is “so ridiculous,” he said. “There’s not much else to say.”
While some Democrats have called Trump’s stonewalling Nixonian, Former Watergate Assistant Special Prosecutor Nick Akerman told BeltwayBreakfast that the Trump administration’s blanket refusal to submit to oversight by House Democrats as “bizarre,” “ridiculous,” and more extreme than even the Nixon administration’s periodic intransigence in the face of various Watergate investigations.
He noted that while Nixon tried to shield some documents — most notably the tapes of his Oval Office conversations — from Congress, officials from his administration frequently appeared before both the House and Senate Judiciary committees.
“This goes far beyond anything [Richard] Nixon did,” said Akerman, now a partner at the law firm of Dorsey and Whitney. Even Nixon, he said, never rejected the authority of Congress because it was controlled by the opposing party.
One member of both the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., called the administration’s position was “absurd.”
“The House is either going to be in the hands of both Republicans and Democrats, and the same goes for the White House. It can’t be that our constitutional oversight power only exists when the same party is in power in both the House and the presidency,” said Raskin, who joined the House after 26 years teaching constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law.
“We have a constitutional oversight power regardless of who is in the majority in Congress and who is in the White House, and the Supreme Court has been very clear that the power of inquiry and investigation is essential to the legislative function.”
Raskin, who represents first and second-year House members on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team, added that the reasoning behind the White House’s rejection of House Democrats’ oversight requests by Trump and his advisors “makes as much sense as saying the President cannot veto legislation passed by a Democratic Congress.”
“The President is acting with complete defiance and contempt of Congressional power under the constitution,” he said.
Another Democrat with oversight expertise, former House Judiciary Chief Counsel Elliot Mincberg, echoed Raskin’s comments in a phone interview with BeltwayBreakfast, calling the Trump administration’s blanket rejection of oversight by Democrats “an outrageous position” that he has not seen from any prior administration of either party.
“I’ve never seen an administration, Democratic or Republican, take that view,” said Mincberg, now a senior fellow with People for the American Way.
Mincberg explained that some of the legal papers Trump’s personal lawyers have filed to try and block Democratic subpoenas cite court cases from 1870s which have not been good law in over a century.
“The courts have recognized since the 1920s that Congress has a crucial oversight role to play for a number of reasons,” he said, adding that oversight becomes even more important when control of government is divided.
While administration officials have characterized their rejections of various Democratic oversight requests as consistent with longstanding principles governing separation of powers, Mincberg noted that what the Trump White House is doing goes far beyond the usual disputes between branches of government controlled by opposing parties.
“President Obama criticized Republicans for the amount of oversight they did when he was President, and [George W.] Bush and [Richard] Nixon criticized Democrats for the oversight that they did, but never have we seen this kind of apparent refusal to cooperate,” he said.
“Trump has taken it to an extreme that we haven’t seen even among Republicans previously. These actions are way more extreme.”
Trump Still Wants Putin Back In G-7, Lies Repeatedly About Why Russia Was Suspended
WASHINGTON, August 20, 2019 — President Trump on Tuesday said he’d support allowing the G-7 to become the G-8 again by allowing Russia to rejoin the annual summit held by the leaders of the world’s seven largest advanced economies.
Speaking in the Oval Office alongside Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Trump repeatedly lied about how long Russia had been participating in the annual summit before its 2014 suspension from what had been the Group of Eight, as well as the reasons for the suspension.
“So it was the G8 for a long time, and now it’s the G7, and a lot of the time, we talk about Russia,” said Trump, who then suggested that it “would be much more appropriate to have Russia in” and return to the G-8 format.
“It should be the G-8 because a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia,” he said. “So I could certainly see it being the G8 again, and if somebody would make that motion, I would certainly be disposed to think about it very favorable.”
Trump also falsely attributed Russia’s non-participation to nothing more than spite on the part of his predecessor, rather than a consequence of Russia illegally invading and occupying part of Ukraine.
“I guess President Obama, because Putin outsmarted him, President Obama thought it wasn’t a good thing to have Russia in. So he wanted Russia out,” he said.
None of the claims Trump made about Russia and the G-8 have any basis in reality.
Although he claimed that Russia had participated “for a long time,” the G-7 summit existed for more than two decades before Russia first became involved.
The first edition of what would become an annual affair took place in 1975, when the leaders of the world’s top six International Monetary Fund-ranked industrialized economies — France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States — met in France.
Canada joined what had been known as the Group of 6 a year later, after which the annual meeting would be known as the Group of 7, or G-7, for the next 19 years.
Russia’s involvement dates back to 1994, when Russian officials met with G-7 leaders at a series of separate meetings after that year’s summit had concluded.
Boris Yeltsin, then President of the post-Soviet Russian Federation, attended the next three meetings as a guest, and in 1998, Russia became a full member of would then be known as the Group of Eight. The invitation was extended in spite of that country’s comparatively insignificant position among the world’s industrialized economies as a way to encourage Yeltsin’s efforts to transition Russia away from the Soviet model to a market economy.
Trump’s claim that Russia’s suspension was initiated by then-President Barack Obama is also false.
The suspension began in March 2014, a month after Russian forces invaded Ukraine and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. As a result of the invasion, which has been widely condemned by the international community, the leaders of what had been the Group of Seven canceled plans to attend that year’s G-8 summit — which Putin had been set to host.
While the assertion that subjects having to do with Russia are routinely discussed at the G-7 level is correct, those discussions most often concern efforts by the G-7 nations — six of which are NATO members — to counter Russian aggression.
Although the international community holds Putin responsible for Russia’s occupation of its neighbor, Trump has previously lied about his culpability and attempted to place the blame on Obama to justify allowing Russia to rejoin the G-8.
During a question-and-answer session with reporters last June, Trump said Putin “should be in the G8” and repeatedly accused Obama of having “lost Crimea.”
“President Obama lost Crimea because President Putin didn’t respect President Obama, didn’t respect our country, and didn’t respect Ukraine,” he said.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Rejects Linkage Between Donald Trump and Anti-Hispanic El Paso Killer
WASHINGTON, August 6, 2019 — White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley on Tuesday rejected the idea that President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric played any role in pushing a Texas man to drive to an El Paso Wal-Mart and open fire on the mostly-Latino shoppers inside.
“There are plenty of people in this country who commit acts of evil in the names of politicians, of celebrities and all types of things,” Gidley said while speaking to reporters outside the West Wing.
The alleged gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crucius, posted a manifesto online before he allegedly shot and killed 22 people on Saturday.
In it, he claimed to be responding to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” He also cited the March 15, massacre of two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, as an inspiration for his action.
The incident renewed questions over President Trump’s frequent use of anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric which have persisted since he opened his 2016 presidential campaign by attacking Mexican immigrants as “rapists.”
His attacks on immigrants were also featured prominently in the run up to the 2018 midterm elections, during which his campaign rally stump speech frequently included descriptions of “caravans” of migrants, which he warned would be allowed to bring diseases into the country of Democrats were allowed to take control of Congress.
Democrats, civil rights activists, and some Republicans have condemned Trump’s remarks as racist, and many observers have drawn parallels between his rhetoric and the views expressed in Crucius’ manifesto.
Other violent killers have invoked rhetoric from Donald Trump
Crucius is not the first violent actor to invoke Trump’s rhetoric.
Last fall, federal agents arrested so-called “MAGA Bomber” Cesar Sayoc after he sent pipe bombs to a long list of prominent Democrats and journalists.
In court documents, Sayoc’s attorneys said their client had fallen victim to the cult-like atmosphere of Trump’s campaign rallies and a steady diet of Fox News and pro-Trump internet conspiracy theories.
But Gidley denied there was any connection between Trump’s rhetoric and those violent actions, and suggested any attempt to link them was beyond the pale.
“It’s not the politician’s fault when someone acts out their evil intention,” he said before rattling off list of Democratic politicians whom the administration “would never blame” for various attacks allegedly carried out by their supporters.
“We would…never blame Barack Obama for the police shootings in Dallas,” Gidley added. “And quite frankly, it’s ridiculous to make those connect in some way. You have to blame the people here who pulled the trigger.”
But other Republicans did, in fact, blame Obama for the 2016 sniper attack that killed five police officers in Dallas, Texas.
During an appearance on Fox News, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., blamed the shooting on “the demonization strategies that the Democratic Party uses on a regular basis.”
“I personally believe that what we saw in Dallas where a gunman shot at and killed law enforcement officers and Caucasians simply because they were law enforcement officers and Caucasians is in part because the Democratic Party strategy of demonizing the law enforcement community on the one hand, and also engaging in a strategy of racial division, where they try to get block votes from minority groups by trying to portray Caucasians as the enemy,” Brooks said.
Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, also blamed then-President Obama for the shootings at the time.
“The spread of misinformation and constant instigation by prominent leaders, including our president, have contributed to the modern-day hostility we are witnessing between the police and those they serve,” he said.
Trump, on the other hand, accused the press of fomenting violence in the wake of last year’s massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
During a question-and-answer session with reporters on the South Lawn last November, a reporter asked him about a poll which found that over half of Americans said he was encouraging political violence.
“You’re creating violence by your questions, you know,” Trump said. “And also, a lot of the reporters are creating violence by not writing the truth. The fake news is creating violence.”
“I’ll tell you what, if the media would write correctly, and write accurately, and write fairly, you would have a lot less violence in the country,” he added.
Dayton Police Chief Says ‘It Would Be Irresponsible’ To Speculate On Mass Shooter’s Motive; Conway Speculates Anyway
WASHINGTON, August 6, 2019 — Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday ignored warnings from law enforcement against suggesting a motive for the perpetrator of the recent mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio by claiming without evidence that he was motivated by “leftism and sympathy for antifa.”
Dayton, Ohio Police Chief Richard Diehl said it would be “irresponsible” to suggest a motive for last weekend’s mass shooting, but Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway did so anyway.
During a press conference on Sunday, Dayton, Ohio Police Chief Richard Diehl cautioned reporters that his department “[did] not have sufficient information” to answer the question of why 24-year-old Connor Betts opened fire with at a popular bar with an AR-15 rifle, killing nine.
“We are very, very early into this investigation. Any suggestion, at this time, of motive would be irresponsible,” Diehl said.
But as Conway spoke to reporters outside the West Wing on Tuesday, she apparently had no qualms about referencing media reports which indicated that social media accounts belonging to Betts had reflected an affinity for liberal causes, despite the fact that the same report stressed that investigators have not discovered any political motive on his part.
“The president will continue to speak about the Second Amendment and the difference between law abiding citizens…versus…people who are motivated by hate and bigotry and race, and I guess in the case of the Dayton, Ohio shooter…leftism and sympathy for antifa,” Conway said while speaking
Although Conway had no basis for asserting that Betts’ actions were politically motivated, her claims echoed similar statements made by conservative media figures with the aim of creating an equivalence between Betts’ actions and those of Patrick Crusius, the 21-year-old who shot and killed 22 people at an El Paso, Texas, Wal-Mart less than 24 hours before.
But unlike Betts, Crusius’ motive has been clear from the start. According to a manifesto he purportedly posted online prior to the shooting, he was motivated to carry out the shooting as a response to what he called the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Crusius’ use of the term “invasion” mirrors rhetoric President Trump has regularly used in speeches and at campaign-style rallies to describe Hispanic and Latino immigrants.
Trump condemned Crusius’ actions in prepared remarks on Monday, during which he denounced “racism, bigotry, and white supremacy.”