Our Dying Democracy — Part 45

It seems I have to write this same post every month or so, but such is the nature of the Trump administration and the Republican party that they keep on providing more and more evidence of the lawless regime they have become.

Let’s start at the top, with President Trump. Lost in the hoopla over the border wall funding deal that may or may not keep the government open, apparently depending on Trump’s whim of the moment, was his brazen and intentional violation of the enforcement of the Congressional mandate in the Magnitsky Act. Last Friday was the deadline for administration to submit its report to Congress regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. That deadline was mandated by the Magnitsky Act which required the executive branch to provide such a report within 120 days of a written request from Congress.

Trump has purposely violated the deadline on the grounds that “Consistent with the previous administration’s position and the constitutional separation of powers, the president maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate”. But this is no ordinary congressional request. It is a request that triggers a legally mandated report and, by ignoring it, the Trump administration is willfully flouting the law.

Even Republicans are furious with this flagrant disregard for the law. Marco Rubio declared, “It violates the law. And the law is clear about those timelines. I’m urging them and I expect them to comply with the law”. Cory Gardner added, “the administration needs to submit the report. There’s no excuse. They must submit it”. A spokesman for Democratic Senator Bob Menendez made it clear as well, saying, “The president has no discretion here. He’s either complying with the law or breaking it”. Well, Trump is breaking it.

Worse, everyone knows that Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) ordered Khashoggi’s murder and that the US government has clear evidence of that. However, for the administration to admit as much would mean that, by law under the Magnitsy Act, MbS would have to be sanctioned. That, in itself, might endanger Trump and Kushner who both appear to have a vested personal interest in protecting him, apparently for financial reasons.

UPDATE: In another move that once again highlights Trump’s authoritarian preference, the President is, as I predicted in early January, going to declare a national emergency in order to basically steal money that Congress has legally authorized for other purposes to build the wall that Mexico was going to pay for. There is no real national emergency, only a fictional one created by Trump specifically to defy the will of Congress. As southpaw notes, Trump is using his executive powers in an attempt “to seize the appropriations power for himself”. This declaration will set up a dangerous precedent for abuse of presidential power and will be challenged in the courts and possibly in Congress.

Let’s move on to the prior Acting Attorney General who apparently went up to the House Judiciary Committee and lied under oath, or at minimum purposefully obfuscated, about his contacts with the White House regarding the ongoing investigations in the Southern District of New York. In addition, he some what incredulously claimed that he had interviewed for the job as the President’s personal attorney but apparently never discussed his views of the Mueller investigation during that process. Chairman Jerry Nadler believes those answers are “contradicted by other evidence” and wants Whitaker to return to explain those “discrepancies”.

Perhaps Whitaker believes he can just walk away now that Bill Barr has been confirmed as the new Attorney General but it is another remarkable degradation of our democracy to see the chief law enforcement officer in the land brazenly lie to Congress. Even more remarkable is that Whitaker is the second successive Trump Attorney General to do just that, as Jeff Sessions lied about his contacts with Russia to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile, Republican state legislatures are doing everything in their power to subvert the democratically expressed will of the people. In Utah, despite the voters overwhelmingly voting for full Medicaid expansion in a 2018 referendum, the legislature overrode that decision in order to pass a bill that would cover fewer people, cost more money, and require a waiver from the Trump administration that is likely illegal for the administration to provide. That bill was signed into law earlier this week.

Similarly, in Missouri, voters overwhelmingly approved a whole suite of anti-corruption measures in the 2018 election under the rubric of a constitutional amendment called “Clean Missouri”. One of the most important pieces of that amendment stated “all legislative records and proceedings to be subject to the state open meetings and records law”. But the Missouri House of Representatives has now added two of its own amendments to that amendment exempting “any correspondence, written or electronic, between a member of a public governmental body and a constituent pertaining to a constituent’s request for information” as well as any document or record “received or prepared by or on behalf of a member of a public governmental body consisting of advice, opinions and recommendations in connection with the deliberative decision-making process of said body”. In other words, virtually all legislative records would be exempt from the state’s open meetings and records laws, basically nullifying the constitutional amendment in its entirety.

This “act of astonishing arrogance” basically tells the voters of Missouri to “take your good-government tripe and shove it”, says columnist Ray Hartmann. This is especially galling as the Clean Missouri amendments were focused on cleaning up the very legislature that is in the process of nullifying them.

As Ian Millhiser writes, “The already rotten foundations of our constitutional order are crumbling under the weight of multiple pathologies that, for the first time in modern American history, have all aligned to the benefit of an illiberal political party”. What’s truly disturbing is how many are not only willing to abide by the constant erosion of our democracy but are also actively supporting it, such as encouraging the President to declare the national emergency in order to keep the government open. Democracies die faster than we imagine.

Originally published at thesoundings.com on February 14, 2019.