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Apr 23 2019

Transparency For Thee But Not For Me

Steve Benen at MaddowBog writes that Donald Trump loves transparency except when it come to himself. When sycophant
representative Devin Nunes ran to the White House last year with a memo full of classified information he had penned to help Trump, Trump, ignoring the objections from his FBI Director Christopher Wray, okayed the release of the documents. Trump’s claim was that he was committed to transparency.

In May 2018, when Trump ordered a highly sensitive intelligence briefing for some members of Congress, in which law enforcement officials were instructed to share information on a confidential human source, the president defended the move by saying, “What I want is I want total transparency…. You have to have transparency.”

In September 2018, Trump ordered the release of classified materials related to the Russia investigation. “All I want to do is be transparent,” he said at the time.

Apparently, like everything else on Planet Trump, transparency only applies when Trump thinks it is to his benefit. On Monday, the Washington Post reported that the White House has instructed former security director, Carl Kline, not to answer the subpoena to appear before the House Intelligence committee today, Tuesday.

In a letter to Kline’s lawyer obtained by The Washington Post, (White House deputy counsel Michael M.) Purpura wrote that a committee subpoena asking Kline to appear “unconstitutionally encroaches on fundamental executive branch interests.”

In a separate letter Monday, Kline’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, told the panel that his client would adhere to the White House recommendation.

“With two masters from two equal branches of government, we will follow the instructions of the one that employs him,” Driscoll wrote in the letter addressed to the committee’s chairman, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.).

Cummings was not available for comment late Monday night. He signed a subpoena earlier this month for Kline to appear Tuesday.

That subpoena followed testimony from a White House personnel security whistleblower, Tricia Newbold, who alleged that the White House had been recklessly granting security clearances to individuals whom lower-level administration personnel staff had found unworthy.

So much for transparency. Monday afternoon the Washington Post reported Trump is trying to limit congressional oversight into his shenanigans.

President Trump sued his own accounting firm and the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight Committee at the same time Monday — trying an unusual tactic to stop the firm from giving the committee details about Trump’s past financial dealings.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, seeks a court order to quash a subpoena issued last week by the committee to Mazars USA. Trump’s lawyers also are asking a federal judge to temporarily block the subpoena until the court has had a chance to review their request.

The move amounts to Trump — the leader of the executive branch of government — asking the judicial branch to stop the legislative branch from investigating his past.

Former House counsels from both sides of the aisle called the challenge a long shot and an apparent delay tactic.

The suit came as House Democrats issued another subpoena likely to touch a nerve for the president. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Monday ordered former White House counsel Donald McGahn to testify before the panel next month and hand over documents and records pertaining to federal investigations of Trump, his finances, his campaign and allegations he sought to obstruct justice.

He is the first former White House employee to receive a subpoena for congressional testimony in the wake of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s redacted report being released to the public.

Over the years, Congress has had broad leeway to use its subpoena power to probe possible corruption in other branches of government. For instance, during the 1990s the GOP-led House spent years investigating President Bill Clinton’s involvement in the “Whitewater” scandal, which began long before he was elected.

Trump’s lawsuit seeks to upend decades of legal precedent that have upheld Congress’s right to investigate, arguing that his past personal dealings are irrelevant to the legislative branch’s fundamental job: writing bills.[..]

The subpoena Trump is seeking to stop — sent by Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) — relates in part to “Statements of Financial Condition” that Mazars produced for Trump before he took office.

These statements are unaudited summations of Trump’s assets, debts and net worth, which Mazars compiled annually for Trump. The statements omitted some debts, overvalued some assets and misstated some key facts in ways that made Trump seem wealthier than he was.

Again Steve Benen writes that when he read the initial filing, he had missed an “interesting tidbit” that was highlighted in the WaPo article:

In Trump’s lawsuit, his attorneys cited a Supreme Court decision called Kilbourn v. Thompson, which found “no express power” in the Constitution for Congress to investigate individuals without pending legislation.

The problem with that argument, said University of Baltimore law professor Charles Tiefer, is that Kilbourn v. Thompson is a case from 1880.

And it was overruled by a decision in 1927, Tiefer said.

“By reaching back to precedent to the 1880s, they’re seeking … to overturn the entire modern case law that the courts have put together to respect Congress’s investigative power,” Tiefer added, referring to Trump’s lawyers. “It’s a very long shot…. These suits look like an act of desperation by the Trump lawyers.”

It’s obviously embarrassing that the president’s new legal team didn’t realize it was citing a Supreme Court case that was overturned nearly a century ago, but let’s not brush past too quickly the absurdity of the underlying argument.

Trump’s lawyers effectively made the case, in an official court filing, that Congress can only conduct oversight in pursuit of legislative ends. If that were true, any effort on the part of lawmakers to scrutinize any controversy outside of legislative pursuits would be legally impermissible.

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow noted on her show Monday night that this lawsuit is doomed.