By Maurice F. Baggiano
The Trump administration seems to have adopted a general policy of refusing to comply with requests for information from and subpoenas issued by the House and its committees.
Our House of Representatives has oversight authority over the executive branch so that the House can properly exercise its own constitutional responsibilities and act as a check and balance on executive power.
Is the Trump administration's stonewalling policy against congressional inquiry actually obstructionism, a criminal offense under the U.S. Code?
Under 18 U.S. Code § 1505 says: "Whoever corruptly . . . influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede . . . the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress — Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years . . . ."
According to Section 834 of the Criminal Resource Manual of the Department of Justice, "[A]n act is 'corruptly' done, if done voluntarily and intentionally, and with the bad purpose of accomplishing either an unlawful end or result, or a lawful end or result by some unlawful method or means."
Certainly the actions taken by the Trump administration in furtherance of its vow to fight "all" subpoenas "impedes" or "endeavors to impede" House inquiries and investigations. But are the actions of the administration being taken "corruptly," in the sense meant by Section 834 of the DOJ's own Criminal Justice Manual?
The president of the United States is under the highest standard of legal and constitutional responsibility as the chief law enforcement officer of the land. His primary duty is to "take care" to faithfully execute the laws and Constitution of the United States. This duty has been described as fiduciary in nature, meaning the president must place our nation's interests above his own. It is unlawful for him to do otherwise.
The attorney general of the United States is the chief lawyer of the land. He is under a sworn duty to "support and defend" our Constitution. He is appointed with the "advice and consent" of the Senate and may be impeached and removed from office by Congress for "high crimes and misdemeanors." Obviously, our Congress – of which the House and Senate are equal chambers – has legitimate oversight responsibility over the attorney general's conduct while in office.
Recently, Attorney General William Barr did not comply with a subpoena for the unredacted version of the 448-page Mueller report, even though only Congress through its impeachment power has the constitutional authority to prosecute and remove a sitting president.
On May 2, the attorney general refused to testify before the House Judiciary Committee regarding special counsel Mueller's investigation, because Barr objected to being questioned by committee staffers, in addition to lawmakers. That's not in line with our Constitution.
Trump has personally sued the House Oversight Committee, as well as his accountants and banks, to block subpoenas seeking the release of his financial records. Moreover, his administration has already missed two deadlines set by House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal for turning over Trump's tax returns. By doing so the president has placed his personal interests above our national interests in violation of his constitutional duty.
Maurice F. Baggiano, of Jamestown, is a member of the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.