Before he suddenly resigned from office in August 1974, President Richard Nixon was in the process of being impeached by Congress. One of the charges leveled against the Republican president was that he had unlawfully obstructed congressional investigations into the Watergate break-in, among other alleged misdeeds. The Articles of Impeachment accused Nixon of having “prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice.” That included “withholding relevant and material evidence or information from lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States,” as well as “interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by Congressional Committees.”
Refusing to obey legal congressional subpoenas constitutes obstruction of justice, which is why it was featured so prominently in the impeachment proceedings. Today, Donald Trump is doing the same thing by embracing a radical, unheard-of strategy to refuse all legal congressional requests in an effort to deny the co-equal branch of government its ability to conduct traditional oversight. But instead of depicting Trump’s war on transparency and democracy as the possibly impeachable offense that it is, much of the press coverage couches the obvious obstruction as a partisan “showdown” between Congress and a “defiant” president. It’s a process story!
Once again, the Beltway press is failing to accurately describe what’s unfolding in plain view. They’re leaning on timid language to depict Trump’s radical behavior and the constitutional emergency he’s creating, using words like “defy,” “standoff,” “feud,” “resist,” “skirmish,” “disputes.” In doing so, news accounts mostly avoid using the words that most accurately describes what’s happening: “obstruction” and “crisis.” And let’s be clear, it’s not a “standoff” between the White House and Democrats. This is the entire Republican Party supporting Trump’s effort to completely bury congressional oversight as it’s been practiced for more than two centuries in America.
Indeed, what’s become obvious is that Trump’s White House has decided it is above the law and that no outside body has the right to conduct oversight and to provide the country with checks and balances, as the Founding Fathers required. The framers of the Constitution knew that effective oversight required separation of power, as well as checks and balances, which Trump is now trying to eviscerate while the press calls it a “feud” with Congress. (The New York Times columnist David Brooks portrayed Trump’s obstruction as a Both Sides issue, blaming Trump and Democrats equally.)
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