Robbins: The Congressional obligation of oversight of the president | VailDaily.com

Robbins: The Congressional obligation of oversight of the president

I may not have read every footnote — all 2,375 of them. I did, however, read the Mueller Report from one end to the other. Call me a legal geek if you like. I read every word — except for those which were redacted — with deep interest. This is our democracy after all, and shouldn’t we all care deeply about that?

In short, the Mueller Report is, at least in part, an impeachment referral to the Congress. It cannot reasonably be read otherwise.

In reading the report, it is unequivocal that the president attempted to obstruct justice. One time after another after another. What is unequivocal as well is that Special Counsel Mueller, feeling he had no other option — owing to Justice Department regulations — could not indict a sitting president. In the case he and his team uncovered criminal wrongdoing, their only option was to hand off their findings to the Congress and invite the Congress to discharge its constitutional duty. 

In the early 1950s, Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy commenced his Red-baiting witch hunt against alleged communists amongst us. With little or no proof but with a heaping helping of spittle, vitriol and flare, McCarthy set out to make a name for himself regardless of who or what he torched in his campaign of what was ultimately one of little more than his own self-aggrandizement. That he and his Committee on Government Operations ruined careers and lives, and stirred up a tempest of fear and suspicion is undisputed. 

In the end, McCarthy and his hacks were at last deflated only when Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith — the first woman to serve in both the House and Senate — crossed party lines and denounced McCarthy (if not by name) declaring, “It is high time we stopped thinking politically as Republicans and Democrats about elections and started thinking patriotically as Americans about national security based on individual freedom.” With these simple but decisive words, began the fall of McCarthy and McCarthyism and all the ill that it had wrought.

More from Maine

In 1974 another Republican from Maine, Rep. William Cohen, a member of the House Judiciary Committee that was hearing evidence against Republican President Richard Nixon in the Watergate burglary and cover-up case, voted with the Democratic majority on a resolution that rejected the White House offer to provide transcripts of White House tapes rather than the tapes themselves. He later voted for the impeachment of the president. 

Cohen has written, “I… acted… with gleaming thoughts of truth, justice, and the American way.” Stepping outside of party, Cohen’s courage and moral light to do the “right thing” led to Nixon ultimately giving up the White House. When Cohen stood up, he was sure it would cost him his career.

A quick postulate; isn’t the definition of heroism when you put yourself on the line, consequences be damned?

Cohen, by the way, ended up doing all right for himself. From 1997-2001, he served admirably as secretary of defense.

To date, with the exception of Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, no Republican has had the fortitude to cross party lines and declare that the emperor has no clothes! For now, at least, Amash is the lone voice in the Republican wilderness calling for the impeachment of the president.

Let’s clarify. 

Impeachment is a process that does not necessarily lead to removal of the president. Rather, it is a process of inquiry and deliberation. It is the means by which the Congress (specifically the House) levels charges and invites the presentation of evidence. It may be thought of as akin to an indictment in criminal law. 

Indictment, then trial

Once an individual is impeached, he or she must then face inquiry and, only if the evidence prevails against them, do they face the possibility of conviction by a legislative vote, which judgment potentially entails removal from office. 

The process of impeachment is the means of getting at the truth. In our nation’s two other impeachment hearings — Andrew Johnson in 1867 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — the facts were elucidated and the president was not removed. Much like a criminal proceeding, if the facts support that the president committed “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors” — the standard for impeachment pursuant to Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution — only then may the president be removed.

What is certain is that the Congress is charged with presidential oversight.

In founding this nation, three concepts stand on particularly high ground: the separation of powers among the three branches of the federal government (the executive, the legislative and the judicial), the independence of each branch, and the “checks and balances” that each branch must exert upon the others. To check the unfettered exercise of presidential power is simply part and parcel of the congressional mandate.

While it is clear that the Republicans in Congress have, at least to date, been spineless in clinging to the coattails of this president, if the Democrats fail to act to commence impeachment proceedings because of the potential political blowback, they are equally corrupt. Both Democrats and Republicans must join hands to get at the truth and let the facts of this president’s conduct speak for themselves. Our legislators must close ranks to preserve this democracy that they are sworn to serve, protect, and defend.

Mr. Mueller has delivered his invitation to the party. 

It is time this Congress — both Democrat and Republican — musters the resolve to accept the challenge. We, the American people deserve no less.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address, robbins@slblaw.com.