Earlier today, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, gave a presser that left little to the imagination. Cummings concluded with a pointed question. A question many have asked privately, but very few have voiced publicly – why is the White House withholding documents on an employee it fired?
Cummings reported on the denial of his committee’s formal request to review documents concerning ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn; documents that may potentially shed light on Flynn’s alleged financial ties to Russia. The request was originally evaded, then flat-out rejected by the Trump administration. Many believe the White House is actively stonewalling all requests regarding Flynn. Initially, the White House denied having any documents on Flynn, then it curiously cloaked itself in “executive privilege.” The intelligence community and the Department of Justice both voiced concerns over the consideration of Flynn for a cabinet position prior to Flynn’s appointment. Concerns, in hindsight, that appear to have been ignored by the Trump administration.
Cummings, visibly disturbed, accused the White House of “playing games.” He also questioned Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), by name, and characterized him as a complicit co-conspirator. Cummings spoke plainly, and at times passionately, about the importance of maintaining a nonpartisan appreciation of the basic ideals espoused in the U.S. Constitution - namely, the separation of powers.
The room fell silent after Cummings asked reporters to surmise the logical conclusion of a congressional branch that theoretically, no longer possessed the power to rein in its executive? Plainly put, what happens when the executive branch denies access to documents the congressional branch legally reserves the right to review? Cummings cautioned onlookers about the perils that accompany such a slippery slope.
Not one in the room fielded or volleyed what Cummings questioned rhetorically – the very collapse of a democracy. Historically, an erosion of democracy is often precipitated by a consolidation of power. Hitler, Mussolini, Putin; men who all amassed a great deal of power and wielded it unwisely, often choosing to covet more power as opposed to championing goodwill. Hence, the hallmark of a democratic political system - with key checks and balances - to guard itself against tyranny.
Fortunately, the Framers buttressed this great nation with a third pillar - the judicial branch. It’s safe to presume congressional subpoenas are imminent.