Republicans in Congress must find courage to call out abuse of power

Republicans in Congress must find courage to call out abuse of power
© Getty Images

President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE faces impeachment for conduct every other generation of Americans would consider to be both abhorrent abuses of power and inherently undemocratic. Decades ago, Richard Nixon was forced to resign when the scope of his domestic political spying operation was exposed. Today, President Trump openly calls for foreign powers to investigate his rivals from the south lawn of the White House.

What do Republicans in Congress say? They have settled on a “he did not really mean it” defense. The party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan is now defending the overt corruption of our foreign policy for the benefit of the reelection campaign of Trump. At least Neville Chamberlain pursued his appeasement policy because he earnestly thought it would protect his people in 1939. Republicans in Congress harbor no such illusions. Lost in the quest for the explicit quid pro quo with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is a far more grievous violation of the constitutional oath of office that Trump took.

The House Intelligence Committee released text messages between senior American diplomats and a senior Ukrainian aide to Zelensky. The texts conclusively establish the overt use of United States government personnel and resources to secure assistance from a foreign government in interfering with the 2020 election. The brazen willingness shown by the president to employ federal government power as if it was a division of the Trump Organization is the embodiment of corrupt intent.

ADVERTISEMENT

But let no one feign surprise. Throughout his term, the president has systematically blurred the lines as to where he, his office, his government, his business, and his campaign started and stopped. He asked the FBI director for a pledge of personal loyalty, said it was the job of the attorney general to protect him, mixed campaign events with official duties, called a law abiding intelligence community whistleblower a spy, and allowed his staff to use their offices to enrich themselves and his business.

He does not acknowledge the distinctions between himself, his business, his campaign, and office that he temporarily holds. To Trump, allegiance to the country begins and ends with allegiance to him. For all the talk about his failure to adhere to constitutional norms or his clear inability to separate his financial and electoral interests from true American interests is arguably his most fundamental offense against his constitutional oath of office. Yet nothing is strong enough to overcome the sheer constitutional authority that Article Two gives the president. The result is that Trump has made an entire governing philosophy out of the infamous mantra of Nixon that “when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”

The question now is how far did he go? We know that he overtly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to open an investigation into Joe Biden and his son. Reports indicate that Trump also told Russian officials two years ago that he was not concerned about their election interference. How many other calls or asks exist? If Trump was willing to invite the Chinese, the Russians, and the Ukrainians to interfere in American elections, why would he deny any other country the same opportunity? Iran and North Korea are launching cyberattacks to interfere in our elections as well, doubtless emboldened by the complacency of the president.

Whether due to fatigue, political cowardice, or the proximity of 2020, Republicans in Congress apparently do not care that the president is perversely employing Article Two to obstruct legislative oversight, subvert the rule of law, and justify his efforts to employ a foreign government to interfere in the next election. Perhaps, as happened during Watergate, some Republicans will find their voice, however feeble, to defend the Constitution. Some of them might even join their Democratic colleagues across the aisle and stand up for the authority of the legislative branch. Unfortunately, no one should feign surprise when they do not.

Chris Gagin is an attorney and adviser to Republicans for the Rule of Law.