We are in a very precarious place

Our government and society lie in a very precarious place right now.

The system of government our founders put in place, which has worked just fine for nearly 250 years, is being tested like never before.

President Trump’s decision to thwart the Congress at every step of the way is the act of an imperial leader, just the type of person our founders drafted a Constitution to avoid.

The political debate has moved from discussion of the Mueller investigation to a debate over our system of government. Congress has requested and subpoenaed information and witnesses from the Executive Branch and is being impeded at every turn by Trump.

This, my friends, is our system of government. The Congress, along with passing laws and budgets, also has an oversight responsibility over the Executive Branch. It was always thus and, I hope, always will be thus.

Is it a political process? Yes. Political parties and individuals are involved and by its very nature that makes it political — on both sides. That was the founders’ intent.

Along with legitimate oversight responsibilities, the House, with Democrats in control, are flexing their muscles, something the previous Republican majority never did, at least when it comes to President Trump. They certainly have in past Administrations, and would now, if the President were a Democrat. Because that’s providing oversight. Citizens can choose to not believe what comes from that oversight but the way to take action on that is Election Day if they disagree with what’s being done.

President Trump, meantime, has his eye on reelection and thus looks at everything as political. In fact, he’s looked at everything under a partisan microscope since the day he won the 2016 election.

Trump and his supporters claim that Russian “collusion” was “litigated” in the Mueller probe and we should move on since he wasn’t charged with any crime. They also claim that release of his tax returns was “litigated” in the last election, and we should move on.

Regarding the Mueller report, that showed that nothing the President or his staff or family did regarding Russian interference with our election, rose to the level of a provable crime. It doesn’t have to be a provable crime to be an impeachable offense. The two are not the same. And when it comes to obstruction of justice, the special counsel decided against that charge because of Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. The report clearly said that charge would be up to Congress to deal with.

Regarding his tax returns, that issue was not determined because he won the election. His tax returns were not on the ballot at all. In fact, he said that his tax returns would be released at some point. He said he was under audit and therefore wouldn’t but that he would once the audit was over. That’s what was litigated in 2016 — that voters trusted a candidate’s word (whether they agreed with it or not) to withhold his returns until an audit was completed.

Trump made a promise that he would release his tax returns. The people who believe in Trump, along with those who don’t, expected he would release his taxes at some point. Clearly, as his acting chief of staff has said, that day never will come and Trump never planned on releasing them. He said that he would so he could get through Election Day because he knew that if lightning struck and he won, he’d continue to stonewall on his taxes. If he lost, which even he expected, the issue would be moot.

Of course we all think he’s hiding something. Otherwise, why would a man who builds his public image as a successful businessman and billionaire hide his taxes? His instinct should be to release them and be admired for all he accomplished and earned.

Did Mueller view his tax returns and determine not to focus on them? I don’t know. And neither does President Trump, though he implies Mueller did look at them. They weren’t mentioned in the special counsel’s report.

Meantime, the majority in the House is investigating various things involving Trump and his Administration. That’s their job. Fact is, if the voters don’t want that to happen they will vote out those Congressmen in 2020. In 2018 the voters decided to elect a majority of Democrats in the House. Thus, one could argue the Trump administration was litigated then and oversight was endorsed. What’s good for the goose, etc.

Trump now claims that since Mueller investigated everything, there’s nothing left for Congress to look at. Maybe so. But that’s not his decision to make under our Constitution.

Trump’s stonewalling on government data, documents and witnesses is an attack on our Constitution and the public’s right to know. Trump yesterday claimed to be “the most transparent President in history” but even his supporters must acknowledge that isn’t true.

The White House has basically closed down daily press briefings and similar steps have been taken at Cabinet departments. The public has the right to know what its government is doing. And the media are one avenue to get out that information. There are other ways — like Twitter or Facebook or direct emailing. And this White House does them all, except respecting the media. (Of course that doesn’t stop them from going to the press “on background” to talk about things. Even the President does that.)

Like many of you, I follow Trump’s tweets. I also get his at least daily emails which report (using his own people to get the information) on the latest good news, in their interpretation. It’s like Fox news’ talking heads in that way. All positive about Trump.

Also, like most of America, we know that Trump embellishes and lies. And now it’s been documented independently that this press secretary does the same.

Trump, like all congressmen and each of the Administration’s political appointees took an oath to our Constitution. He is not living up to that oath — to protect and defend the Constitution, which lays out Congress’ role.

If he has nothing to hide, why not allow his people to testify? Or provide information to the Congress? If all he is doing is on the up and up, he should welcome such opportunities for his people to directly lay out his accomplishments.

If you take a step back — even those Trump supporters who may read this — you will see that he is not living up to his oath. If you don’t agree, you are conceding to the great and powerful Oz, and if you do that now…his actions will get worse with time and confidence that he can get away with it.

Trump views his role as a CEO with all branches of government answerable to him. It is not, and never was intended to be. We have three branches of government, independent of each other, for a good reason — to avoid a dictator or ruler or to take away the power from the people, with each branch of government keep the others honest.

Our precarious position puts us on the precipice of a strongman dictator form of government. Now’s the time to recognize that and act.

Former deputy White House press secretary (Reagan and Bush 41) and former head of communications at Republican Natl Committee. My blog: bjaycooper.com.

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