Bookman: If President Trump is innocent, why lock up the evidence?

Georgia Recorder columnist Jay Bookman asks, If President Donald Trump is innocent, why would he keep all the copious evidence of that innocence locked away from Congress and the world? Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump has placed a heavy shroud of silence over the executive branch.

Under his orders, no witnesses from the State Department, the Defense Department, the Energy Department, the Department of Justice, the White House or any other executive agency will be allowed to testify under oath to Congress. It’s all shut down.

Likewise, no documents, no memos, no email or text-message exchanges will be made available to Congress as it considers impeachment.

That’s an odd thing to do if you’re innocent.

If you’re innocent, why would you keep all the copious evidence of your innocence locked away from Congress and the world? Why would you tell eyewitnesses to your innocence that they can’t utter a word about it? Why would federal judges feel it necessary to order you not to destroy evidence of this innocence?

The most obvious explanation is that you in fact are not innocent. The most obvious explanation is that you realize that your only hope of retaining office and any degree of public support is to hide as much evidence of your wrongdoing as possible, for as long as possible, using every desperate measure at your command.

In a letter to Congress this week, White House lawyers did just that.

“There is no basis for your inquiry,” those lawyers told Congress, condemning the investigation as “partisan and unconstitutional,” “constitutionally invalid,” “an unconstitutional exercise in political theater” and “illegitimate.”

Writing about a controversial phone call with the Ukrainian president, they claim that a rough transcript of that call proves it “was completely appropriate, that the President did nothing wrong, and that there is no basis for an impeachment inquiry.”

This would be the phone call in which the Ukrainian president begs Trump for permission to buy U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles, which he needs to protect his country from Russian invasion. The very next words out of Trump’s mouth are fateful:

“I would like you to do us a favor though….”

As Trump explains, that favor involves two investigations. First, he demands that Ukraine announce an investigation into a cockamamie far-right claim that it was Ukraine itself, not Russia, that hacked Democratic emails in the 2016 elections, and that Ukraine did so to help Democrats. Then, Trump says he also wants an investigation of Joe Biden, who is beating Trump by double-digits in most head-to-head polling.

A U.S. president, pressuring a vulnerable ally to investigate a political enemy, is a clearly impeachable act, and in subsequent comments to the press, Trump has repeatedly admitted to and even bragged about his crime. The evidence and testimony that he seeks to bar from Congress would only confirm that conclusion.

For the moment, though, we should focus on the fact that the president and his lawyers don’t get to decide whether there is a legitimate basis to an impeachment inquiry. Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution puts it clearly:

“The House of Representatives … shall have the sole power of impeachment.”

There is no language anywhere giving the president a veto over his own impeachment, no provision allowing him to declare his impeachment “illegitimate.” In other settings, Trump and his lawyers have also claimed that as president, he cannot be indicted or even investigated, and that this immunity to investigation extends to his companies, to his family, even to his associates.

In the weeks to come, the House will almost certainly vote to impeach Trump, and among the articles of impeachment it will send to the Senate for trial will be an article explaining that Trump’s king-like refusal to allow any testimony before Congress or release any requested documents amounts to obstruction of justice.

If the Republican-led Senate rejects that particular article, if it decides that this extraordinary refusal to produce legally sought evidence is acceptable, then at that moment the very concept of congressional oversight as a check on the executive will die. If Congress cannot force the executive branch to honor its subpoenas, then our system of checks and balances is destroyed and all future presidents, Democrat and Republican, will be free to tell Congress to go to hell.

We are, in other words, in a full-blown constitutional crisis.

Jay Bookman
Jay Bookman covered Georgia and national politics for nearly 30 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, earning numerous national, regional and state journalism awards. He has been awarded the National Headliner Award and the Walker Stone Award for outstanding editorial writing, and is the only two-time winner of the Pulliam Fellowship granted by the Society of Professional Journalists. He is also the author of "Caught in the Current," published by St. Martin's Press.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t believe it’s a question of if..I believe the Republican-led Senate will decide the refusal is acceptable.

    If the Republican-led Senate rejects that particular article, if it decides that this extraordinary refusal to produce legally sought evidence is acceptable

  2. If the Constitution is killed by the Senate, then our citizens’ rights enumerated therein are no longer valid — including the Second Amendment. It’s amazing to me that so many people can’t connect the dots to determine the outcomes of such potential traitorous behavior of the Senate.

  3. One further thought . . . why doesn’t the House have Capitol police escort to the committee rooms those who have been subpoenaed, or at least have the subpoena defiers arrested outright and thrown into jail?

  4. I guess it would be too much to ask that the career civil servants sitting in the HOR/Senate adhere to the same principles they so loudly espoused in 1998?

  5. No need for an investigation or to see documents. Many of those in the house and senate have already made their minds up without seeing what if anything the requested items do or do not show.

    ……”among the articles of impeachment it will send to the Senate for trial will be an article explaining that Trump’s king-like refusal to allow any testimony before Congress or release any requested documents amounts to obstruction of justice.

    If the Republican-led Senate rejects that particular article, if it decides that this extraordinary refusal to produce legally sought evidence is acceptable, then at that moment the very concept of congressional oversight as a check on the executive will die.”

  6. Beautifully written column, Jay Bookman. It reads like a symphony of words put to music to culminate in its climax – your ending sentence.

    If Republican senators, led by Senate leader Mitch McConnell, allow our precious republic to be destroyed by a travesty of injustice carried out by deceit, I pray that the words of America’s Founding Fathers, that all have been created equal, will touch the souls of young people throughout the planet, and that these young people of all nations will preserve for future generations of human beings on Earth America’s original dream for self-government, individual liberty, and equality.

    Then, America’s Founding Fathers will continue to rest in peace, knowing that what they had created for America has been sustained forever, throughout the planet, beyond any one nation, through the grace of God, touching the souls of humankind, everywhere, for all time.

  7. If Trump is guilty why are the hearings being held in secret? The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Why aren’t the hearings open and being held were the press and public can witness the supposed high crimes and misdemeanors?

    • The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”
      First, this is not a “criminal prosecution” it’s like a grand jury where evidence is presented and it will be determined if charges or articles of impeachment will be warranted and drawn up.
      Second, the Senate trial will be the “prosecution”.

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