Why Trump Has Met the Standard for Obstruction of Congress

Trump at the Capitol in March 2019 (White House Photo)

Obstruction of Congress is one of two articles of impeachment the House is voting on today. Here’s why it matters — and why President Trump’s conduct has met that standard.

The United States has three separate, co-equal branches of government. Co-equal is the key point here. To prevent our country from becoming a monarchy or a dictatorship, the legislative branch must have authority to oversee the executive branch.

This doesn’t mean Congress is supreme and can do whatever it wants. There are legitimate cases in which the executive branch has reasonable arguments for refusing to provide information to Congress. This is where questions of executive privilege and national security often come up. In every administration there are oversight requests that executive branch officials view as illegitimate or politically motivated.

But if the executive branch could pick and choose which investigations it is willing to cooperate with, it would effectively eviscerate Congress’s ability to conduct meaningful oversight of the executive branch. When Congress is exercising its legitimate oversight authority — and particularly when that authority is based on the text of the Constitution itself, as it is in an impeachment inquiry — the executive branch generally must comply.

The Trump White House has not done this. To the contrary, it has directed agencies to engage in a strategy of total obstruction, blocking witnesses from testifying and ordering executive branch agencies like the State Department to withhold documents. Importantly, these agencies are not raising traditional privilege concerns. Instead they’ve simply refused to engage in good faith negotiations.

For at least some of the documents, the agencies have effectively acknowledged that they have no legitimate legal basis to withhold the records from Congress. How do we know this? Some of those same documents that the administration refused to provide to Congress were released to American Oversight in response to one of our Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. If an email like this one can be released to us through FOIA, there can be no legal basis for the administration to refuse to give it to Congress. The House Intelligence Committee cited this in their report.

That’s obstruction of Congress. If a president and their administration are allowed to ignore Congress’s authority to oversee the executive branch, that fundamentally undermines the Constitution and our system of checks and balances.

The power of impeachment exists, in part, to prevent situations like this — or to be a final, fall-back measure to check a president who refuses to recognize the constitutional separation of powers. That’s (just one part of) what is happening now.

(And as for those State Department emails we obtained through FOIA? That was just the first production from the first lawsuit. More records are coming soon, including a production of documents from the Defense Department this Friday.)

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Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of State, Department of the Treasury, International Trade Administration, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
January 9, 2019

Investigating the Acting Defense Secretary’s Ties to Boeing

Department of Defense
December 12, 2018

Audit the Wall: No Plans, Funding or Timeline — And No Wall

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of State
February 9, 2018

New Lawsuit Seeks DHS Border Wall Emails with White House, Fox News, Border States

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security
December 17, 2017

Trump Transition GSA Emails and Memorandum of Understanding

General Services Administration
October 31, 2017

American Oversight Sues State Department for Records Showing Efforts to Compel Mexico to Pay for Border Wall

Department of State
October 17, 2017

5 Questions for Attorney General Sessions

Department of Justice
September 2, 2017

DOJ Confirms Trump Lied in “Wiretap” Tweets

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
August 1, 2017

American Oversight Obtains Attorney General Sessions SF-86 Signature Page

Department of Justice
August 1, 2017

Statement on Waiver of Environmental Regulations for Border Wall

July 21, 2017

American Oversight Calls for Resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
July 13, 2017

DOJ Releases Redacted Page of Sessions’s SF-86 to American Oversight

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
June 16, 2017

Watchdog Group Files Lawsuit on Trump Border Wall

Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, Department of the Interior, Office of Management and Budget
May 24, 2017

After American Oversight Lawsuit, DOJ Confirms that Sessions Lied about Russian Contacts

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
May 16, 2017

American Oversight Demands Release of Comey-Trump Memos

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
May 12, 2017

Letter to Burr and Warner: Senate Should Request Trump-Comey Tapes

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
May 10, 2017

Statement on the Firing of FBI Director Comey

Federal Bureau of Investigation
May 10, 2017

Ethics Watchdog Calls for IG Investigation of Sessions for Violating Recusal

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
April 19, 2017

American Oversight Sues DOJ for Release of Trump Tower Wiretap Records, Russia Investigation Documents

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, White House
March 28, 2017

Statement on Trump Administration Proposal to Build Border Wall South of Rio Grande

Department of the Interior
March 24, 2017

American Oversight Launches Investigation of President Trump’s Border Wall

Department of Homeland Security
March 22, 2017

Statement on Intelligence Committee Chairman Nunes’ Actions

March 17, 2017

American Oversight Calls on Congress to Investigate Trump Aide’s Reported Ties to Nazi Group

Office of Government Ethics, White House