Congress must investigate Trump. But it must also be strategic about it

Investigations should be undertaken more with a view to legislating for the future than coming to terms with the past

By Lawrence Tribe | The Guardian | April 1, 2019


Rarely have the demands of constitutional democracy and the rule of law been in greater tension with the imperatives of progressive politics. Fidelity to the constitution and the primacy of law over naked power call for a determined effort by Congress to unearth the full truth about Donald Trump’s actions leading up to the election, and since assuming office.

Congress has a duty to look into the president’s offenses in seizing the White House and whether, having arrived at the pinnacle of power, he obstructedefforts to uncover the details of his corrupt ascent and to disclose the many facets of his interference with investigations into those details.

At the same time, one would have to be politically blind not to see that the vast majority of voters care far less about those matters than about kitchen table issues like health care and economic opportunity for this generation and the next. People have become all but immune even to undeniable evidence that Donald Trump is guided not by our national interest but by his own greed for power and by the leverage that hostile foreign nations are able to exert over his decisions. Ironically abetted by the daily barrage of frightening revelations about their leader, Americans have become so eager to move on that they have little patience left for seemingly abstract matters of legal principle and democratic legitimacy.

Americans have become so eager to move on that they have little patience left for seemingly abstract matters of legal principle and democratic legitimacy

Yet it would be an inexcusable dereliction of duty for those with responsibility to get to the bottom of our democratic predicament to shut down their inquiries – or even to conduct them out of the full view of the public. There are those in the Democratic party who would prefer to have these investigations recede from center stage. And many Trump supporters remain eager to hang the albatross of endless investigation around the necks of Democrats and to identify the Democratic party more with dwelling in the past than with planning for a better future. But it is unlikely that the House judiciary, intelligence and oversight committees will be tempted to give either of these groups what they want.

The skillfully drafted 24 March letter by attorney general William Barr was shamefully misleading and provides no reason to drop the investigation into Trump’s wrongdoing. It buried the lede – that the long-awaited report of special counsel Robert Mueller “does not exonerate” the president – in a fog of inconclusive verbiage. And it will long obscure the truth that Trump and his close associates sought the unlawful help of a hostile foreign power in the quest for the presidency, gladly accepted that help while committing serious campaign finance crimes designed to bury stories that might derail his campaign, and have been taking steps ever since to reward the assistance they received, conducting America’s foreign policy in a way that would be inexplicable were it not for Trump’s personal and business interests. Though Barr cannot undo the harm he has done already, he must at least provide the entire unredacted Mueller report immediately to the House intelligence and judiciary committees, as demanded.

All but the most uncritical loyalists of the president appear to have agreed that the special counsel’s responsibility was to decide whether the president had obstructed justice, regardless of the justice department’s policy regarding the indictment of a sitting president – not to