Commentary: President’s powers must be kept in check

On July 27, 2016, the Republican candidate for president was recorded stating “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you can find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.” On Sept. 22, 2016, the first evidence was discovered that Russia was interfering with our presidential election on behalf of one candidate. The U.S. Intelligence Community confirmed this attack on Oct. 7.

On Dec. 20, President Obama warned Putin of consequences if Russia continued trying to interfere with our government. He later expelled some Russian diplomatic staff and closed their facilities. Despite this, further evidence of their interference efforts was found.

Sen. Jefferson Sessions was an early and staunch supporter of the Republican candidate and worked hard for the campaign, resulting in his being confirmed as attorney general. The Intelligence community and the Justice Department were continuing their investigations into Russian interference so Sessions recused himself from these, concerned about a potential conflict of interest.

POTUS was not pleased. Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein then appointed a special counsel, Robert Mueller, to oversee the Russian investigation. Mueller had served as director of the FBI and as assistant A.G. for the Criminal Division.

On Nov. 7, 2018, after 18 months of vicious criticism by POTUS, Sessions was “requested” to resign as A.G. and his deputy took over as acting A.G. On Feb. 14, 2019, William Barr became the attorney general after his 18-page “job application.” It was to him that Mueller would hand his final “Report on the Investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” The report contained 448 pages plus extensive substantiating notes. On March 22, A.G. Barr received the report and notified the judiciary committees of each house of Congress.

On March 24, Barr released a four-page summary that basically said that there was “no collusion” and “no obstruction.” Counsel Mueller sent two letters to A.G. Barr disagreeing with his summary, noting that it did not address certain complexities of the report. Barr received and marked them as read on March 25 and 27. Testifying before a House Appropriations sub-committee, Barr was asked if he had read the two letters. He avoided answering directly and lied about having heard of any displeasure from Mueller.

According to “The Moscow Project” of 4/30/2019, POTUS’ campaign had 251 contacts with Russians with at least 37 meetings. Thirty-three campaign officials and advisoes were aware of contacts with Russian operatives during the campaign and transition. Vox.com lists indictments handed down by Mueller that included four campaign personnel, 13 Russians and three companies, and 12 GRU officers, among others. However, the report indicates that the existing evidence of conspiracy by the campaign was insufficient for a court case. Insufficient evidence does not mean exoneration.

Vox.com also lists the 10 instances where evidence of obstruction of justice by this president was delineated in the report. Robert Mueller did not indict this president because of Justice Department policy. He left this up to Congress. While nothing in our Constitution prevents a president from being indicted, Justice Department policy is based upon two separate theories.

These were explained in an NPR interview on 4/22/2018 with Ailsa Chang and highly respected attorney Philip Lacovara. He said, 1) An indicted president might be so preoccupied in defending himself that he might not be able to govern effectively. 2) The “unitary executive theory” that “law enforcement resides in the president and that everybody else in the executive branch … is irrelevant.” Therefore the president could not indict himself. By his words and tweets, this seems to be what POTUS believes and he acts accordingly.

During the course of his presidency, POTUS has continued to repeat that he had done nothing wrong; that the investigation has been “a witch hunt.” Yet there have been many (hundreds) of times when, through words and deeds, he has worked to obstruct justice. The firing of FBI Director Comey and attempts to fire Robert Mueller are two examples.

Beyond obstruction, he has acted like an autocrat: his attempted Muslim ban, his separation of children from families, his trade wars, his admiration of and “friendships” with dictators like Putin, Kim Jung Un, Duterte and others. It seems he has fully adopted the “unitary executive theory” and believes that nothing he says or does is illegal.

Every U.S. government official must take an oath of office. (Article VI paragraph 3 of the Constitution) All contain “I, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…” The presidential oath includes the phrase “…preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States…”

From the beginning of his campaign and continuing to this day, this president has maligned any branch or individual of our government that challenges him. He has disparaged the FBI, congressmen/women, judges, Gold Star families, the free press and people of color. The list goes on. He demeans individuals with childish name-calling.

At a White House event on May 23, he accused James Comey, Andrew McCabe and two FBI agents of treason and shrugged at the mention of the death penalty for treason. He and A.G. Barr agreed that these “domestic spies” were involved in the Russia investigation. POTUS has given presidential power to Barr to declassify U.S. secrets as he “investigates” the Russia probe. A.G. Barr, like POTUS, is talking and acting completely against their sacred oaths of office.

We citizens, who “pledge allegiance … to the republic …,” and those in Congress, who swore (affirmed) by oath, to protect and defend the Constitution must vote and act to check the power of this president.

Alan P. Gaddis is a resident of Dover.

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