'It Is Unprecedented': Rep. Connolly Calls Trump's Fight Against Subpoenas 'Constitutional Crisis'

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Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., addresses the Atlantic Council's "NATO Engages The Alliance at 70" conference, in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (Cliff Owen/AP)
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., addresses the Atlantic Council's "NATO Engages The Alliance at 70" conference, in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2019. (Cliff Owen/AP)

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said Monday that the Trump administration's unilateral defiance of congressional investigations is an "unprecedented" move that pits the executive and legislative branches of the government against each other.

Pursuing the various requests and subpoenas facing the Trump White House is a matter of "defending the constitutional framework of our government," he said.

"I'm not going to let any president defy Congress this way," Connolly, a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, told On Point. "No president has really done that before. Even Richard Nixon at the height of Watergate allowed members of his cabinet and his personal staff to appear before Congress under oath."

Connolly elaborated on how far he says Congress would go to enforce the congressional requests, which he said "were not an optional thing."

"The power of Congress is immense. ... We have many tools in front of us," he said. "There are of course legislative tools and appropriations tools — we can cut off funding. But with respect to an individual who refuses to comply, we can issue a contempt citation — Contempt of Congress — and we can enforce it."

This means fines, imposed by both courts and Congress, or even jail time, Connolly explained.

"We can have the Sergeant at Arms arrest you and put you in jail. ... If somebody wants to really damage his or her career or put themselves in enormous legal and financial peril, go ahead and defy a subpoena issued by a committee in Congress."

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On progress with the subpoenas, including Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan's letter to the White House regarding former White House official Carl Kline

"I think Jim Jordan understood that what Trump did by announcing, 'No one will comply with subpoenas in my administration, we will not cooperate with the investigative role constitutionally mandated by the Congress,' triggered a constitutional crisis and that if there weren't some break in that, Trump was going to lose. I assure you that if you go to court, the courts historically have upheld the right of Congress to have broad powers in terms of investigation of any administration. And so Trump was going to lose that battle, but meanwhile would have triggered this kind of constitutional conflict, and I think crisis.

"And I think Jim Jordan, to his credit, decided that at least with respect to Mr. Kline, let's give the Democrats something. But I don't think that ends the crisis. The president's words still stand. They are still defying the will of Congress. There are six committees, ours being one of them, that are engaged in ongoing investigations on a broad front. Not because we're out to get anybody, but, frankly, because of misdeeds and malfeasance by this administration and this president, personally."

"The courts historically have upheld the right of Congress to have broad powers in terms of investigation of any administration."

Rep. Gerry Connolly

On the Mueller report

"It hardly resolves the questions at hand. Read the report, it's over 400 pages. Volume 1 talks about the Russian interference and it hardly is conclusive and it hardly is exonerating. Because while it says, 'I can't prove a criminal conspiracy to cooperate with the Russians to interfere or undermine our election,' well, I certainly found what was a lot of unusual activity that I couldn't connect. And [special counsel Robert Mueller] says — why? — he says because of lack of cooperation, because apps were self-destructive, emails were not penetrable, because of encryption or they outright deleted documents and emails that did not allow us to pursue the trail. But he does document unusual activity, very unusual and very distasteful activity, in terms of conversations with and connections with the Russians, from the campaign manager to the deputy campaign manager to the national security adviser. And they lied about it. There were over 100 contacts with Russian officials by at least 17 members of the Trump campaign or Trump administration.

"Now with respect to volume 2 — obstruction — Mueller all but says he committed a crime. He cites 10 occasions where the president seems to have obstructed justice and he says, 'I couldn't charge him with a crime because of Department of Justice guidelines that say he can't be indicted as a sitting president.' Then he goes on to say — unbelievably unusual, he says, but Congress can act on it. And in case they don't, he says a future prosecutor, once Trump is out of office, can indict him. Now, why would a prosecutor go to the trouble of saying that and leave this trail of bread crumbs in terms of criminal activity if he, in fact, was not convinced himself that what the president did was to cross the line?"

On the question of a "constitutional crisis"

"He is directing all officials of this administration to defy congressional subpoenas and recall and congressional requests for documentation. That that has never happened before. It is unprecedented, and that's why I call it a constitutional crisis, because you are now having the two branches directly in conflict about their respective roles as delineated by the Constitution of the United States. And if we don't uphold the role of the legislative branch, the checks and balances will be gone."


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Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.


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