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Trump tests the constitutional ties that bind | Editorial

American presidents are not kings. Trump’s obstruction of the impeachment inquiry cannot be allowed to stand.
Donald Trump. [Times archives]
Published Oct. 10
Updated Oct. 14

President Donald Trump’s obstruction of the House impeachment inquiry is an abuse of power that cannot be allowed to stand. This is not an imperial presidency, and Trump is not the supreme ruler regardless of his tweets about his "great and unmatched wisdom.'' Bedrock constitutional principles regarding executive authority and co-equal branches of government are at stake, and both Democrats and Republicans should protect those ideals above all else.

This is a president who consistently flouts the rule of law, exceeds the boundaries of executive authority and attacks the credibility of institutions that question his judgment, including the courts, the nation’s intelligence agencies and the media. Now Trump is resorting to that scorched earth strategy to demonize and delegitimize the impeachment inquiry. That should not be acceptable to any member of Congress, regardless of whether they believe Trump should be impeached.

Since Trump initially signaled he would cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, he has called it a "witch hunt'' by a "kangaroo court.'' His lawyer sent an eight-page screed to the House this week declaring the administration would not allow officials to appear as witnesses before House committees or turn over documents. This is exactly the sort of obvious obstruction that could become an article of impeachment.

For those in need of a high school government refresher course, including the president and his blind supporters, impeachment is a political process. Trump has no right to confront or cross-examine witnesses who appear before House committees, yet he makes that claim even as he attempts to intimidate witnesses by recklessly talking of “spies” and "treason.'' His lawyer’s complaints about due process and procedure are without merit, and remember it is the House that votes on articles of impeachment and the Senate that decides whether to convict.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi easily can resolve one of the Republicans’ complaints. She can have the House formally vote to support the impeachment inquiry. While that is not required by the Constitution or House rules, that would signal to Americans that this is a serious, fair-minded effort to hold accountable a president who openly invites foreign countries to meddle in U.S. elections on his behalf.

At this moment, a House vote on the impeachment inquiry would carry more long-term political risk for Republicans. There are enough Democratic votes to support it, and public opinion has quickly moved in favor of the inquiry. Republicans should be forced to go on the record about whether they support the constitutional authority of the legislative branch -- or believe the president answers to no one regardless of his actions.

Trump has not helped himself since a whistleblower came forward with concerns that he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son while his administration was holding up $391 million in much-needed military aid from the country. The president has claimed he has the right to ask foreign governments to investigate his political opponents, even when there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Now he claims he can unilaterally derail congressional investigations by refusing to allow members of his administration to cooperate. While not impeachable, Trump’s rash decision to abandon Kurdish forces that have been reliable U.S. allies and allow Turkey to launch a military assault this week against the Kurds in Syria further speaks to his erratic behavior and disregard for national security.

In 1974, the House articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon cited him for failing to produce documents and answer subpoenas. Trump’s refusals to cooperate with this impeachment inquiry are comparable, and American presidents are not kings with unilateral authority. This is a serious stress test of the fundamentals of the U.S. Constitution and the checks and balances of the nation’s government. When the executive branch seeks to break those bonds, it’s up to the legislative and judicial branches to ensure they hold firm.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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