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Opinion Trump impeachment: Obstruction of Congress charge will define our future as a nation

19:56  13 december  2019
19:56  13 december  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

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For only the fourth time in American history, the House of Representatives has drafted articles of impeachment for a president. Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached and then acquitted in the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned rather than endure near-certain conviction in the Senate.  Now Donald Trump faces the prospect of impeachment in the House and a trial in the Senate.

Maxine Waters, Eliot Engel, Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Richard Neal, Adam Schiff posing for a photo: 'Obstruction of Congress:' Trump's stonewalling becomes basis for impeachment© Provided by USA TODAY 'Obstruction of Congress:' Trump's stonewalling becomes basis for impeachment

We cannot, of course, know what the ultimate outcome of this will be, either for President Trump or for our nation. But we can assess what the House has proposed and measure it against what has gone before in our history.

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Our politicians today confront an almost impossible conundrum. How should they respond to this president?  What should be their focus? In the end, while we can critique the choices made by House leaders, their decision to home in on the fundamental American principle of checks and balances is likely to be the most consequential.

Overblown fears of executive abuse

Our Founders’ goal was to create a limited government, but one that was energetic enough to actually be effective.  As constitutional scholar Herbert Storing once put it, the intent was for "a design of government with the powers to act and a structure to make it act wisely and responsibly."  To advance that goal, the Framers set up a system of checks and balances, where the branches of government had oversight of each other and prevented abuse by protecting their own prerogatives. Thus, they hoped, the separation of powers would frustrate the lust for power.

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And so, the most important choice the House made is to charge the president with obstruction of Congress in its second proposed article of impeachment. Trump’s decision to completely stonewall the House — to withhold documentation from Congress during its impeachment investigation and to order witnesses not to testify — is nothing less than an assault on the checks and balances at the core of the American system.

For most of our history, executive activities, while sometimes aberrant, could be counted on to remain bounded by law.  Fears of abuse (under, say, George W. Bush or Barack Obama) were for the most part overblown. The executive was generally law-abiding in intent, and the legislative branch (along with the judicial) served as a check on abuse on those rare occasions when it occurred.

This is not to say that abuse did not occur, but rather that existing norms of behavior so constrained the executive that we could have a high degree of confidence in the resilience of the political system. For me, in many ways Watergate was a success story — albeit a success achieved only with courage and tenacity on the part of the press, the investigators, Congress and the judiciary. Ultimately, the norms of democratic accountability held and, in the end, the nation was steadied on its course.

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  ‘It's really sick’: Pelosi rips Trump’s impeachment letter Speaker Nancy Pelosi trashed President Trump’s six-page letter criticizing her leadership on impeachment the day before the House is slated to vote on the two articles. © Provided by Washington ExaminerIn the letter sent to Pelosi on Tuesday afternoon, Trump blasted House Democrats for their “partisan impeachment crusade,” accusing them of showing "unfettered contempt" for the system of government installed by the Founding Fathers.

Health of democracy at risk

Today, many in our country are troubled by a feeling that we cannot take these norms for granted any longer. The institutions and mechanisms we have long relied upon to keep executive power within bounds seem no longer to function. Incumbents in institutions like the presidency and some parts of the Congress are losing sight of the importance of the rule of law, and placing the health of our democracy at risk.

To put the fundamental problem succinctly, we are no longer sure that adequate powers exist to ensure that a president adheres to the rule of law, and to punish any abuses of power that come to light. And if our powers are no longer adequate, what can be done?

In this context, President Trump’s gravest offenses have been to reject limits on his authority and deny the ability of Congress to oversee his actions. When he says of the Constitution, "Then I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” Trump is striking at the very heart of American democracy.  In recommending an article of impeachment for obstructing Congress, the House is making the critical, essential choice to reaffirm its role as a co-equal branch of government charged with the solemn duty of restraining executive overreach.

How this struggle plays out is, in the long run, far more important than anything we might think about President Trump, personally. What happens next will define American democracy for years to come.

Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow in the National Security and Cyber Security Program at the R Street Institute, was senior counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation and a deputy assistant secretary of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration. Follow him on Twitter: @RosenzweigP


Ivanka says Trump views impeachment as "pure partisan politics" .
The president's eldest daughter and White House adviser says her father is "energized" by impeachmentWashington — White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump said her father views the House's decision to impeach him on two separate charges as "just raw partisan politics," but also left the president "energized" ahead of a Senate trial in the new year.

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