The Democratic Party has a clear strategy: pursue the investigations and decide later on if they have enough material to try to remove the president
The trouble with drawn-out wars is that one may end up forgetting why one started them in the first place. That is the case with the struggle between Donald Trump and the Democratic opposition. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report into the Russian scheme exonerates Trump as regards the accusation of colluding with Moscow. However, with regard to obstruction of justice, the report leaves open the possibility for Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings, that is to say, a process that starts with a no-confidence vote, which, in theory, could end with the removal of the head of state and government.
If we add to this that Trump still refuses to release his tax returns—something unprecedented in more than four decades—and the investigations undertaken by New York prosecutors into the finances of Trump’s businesses before he came into politics, we have the key factors in the war between the president and the opposition.
A war that Trump wishes to take to court. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” the president said this week. Trump was alluding to the subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives to his advisers and for his documents, which have legal force. This means that the White House will fight the subpoenas in court, in a new escalation of the institutional struggle the United States is facing.
The Democratic Party has a clear strategy for the time being: pursue the investigations and decide later on if they have enough material for impeachment. The leadership has enforced this argument on the younger, left-wing branch, which wants to go straight for Trump. This is the strategy supported by Hillary Clinton, the 2016 candidate, in a Washington Post op-ed.
The toughest fight (for now) is summoning Don McGahn to testify before the House of Representatives. He is the former White House counsel and the person Trump would have asked to exert his influence in order to fire Mueller so that the U.S. justice system would go after Hillary Clinton.
Using the justice system against a political rival is an unprecedented event in the recent history of the U.S., and, given that testifying before Congress has the same value as testifying in court, it will add an element of suspense to McGahn’s eventual appearance. That is why Trump stated that if a formal subpoena is issued, he will ask the courts to invalidate it.
The second dispute is financial in nature. On Tuesday, for the second time, the Treasury Department failed to comply with the demand of Democrat Richard Neal, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives, to hand over the president’s tax returns from 2012 to 2018. The treasury secretary has said that he needs until May 6 to decide on the matter. It is almost certain, though, that the answer will be in the negative. This will open the door to a new subpoena. Which will in turn be contested in court.
This would be more challenging for Trump. A 1924 law states that the legislative branch has a right to see the tax returns of any citizen. The rule was adopted following the Teapot Dome scandal – the biggest corruption case in the U.S. until Watergate, in 1973. Trump’s only option is to drag the case in court and work its way up to the Supreme Court. According to legal experts, the decision is crystal clear, but this does not seem to discourage the president from implementing the strategy of stalling and attrition in court, something that proved to be very successful in his activities as a businessman.
A third front would be the accounting practices of Trump’s companies. Two months ago, the president’s lawyer and right-hand man, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress that Trump systematically inflated his assets and reduced his tax liabilities when negotiating bank loans– especially with the German Deutsche Bank, virtually the only entity that has lent to him in the last two decades. If the accusations made by Cohen—who will be sent to prison this month to serve a three-year sentence—prove to be true, Trump would have committed a crime. Additionally, the president’s financial affairs are under a series of investigations.
And that is where another legal battle lies. Last month, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform issued a subpoena requesting Mazars—the accounting firm keeping accounts for Trump’s business—to turn in all the information they have on the president, his businesses and his non-profit foundation. The deadline for this is next Monday, but this week, the president’s lawyers have taken the House subpoena to court, claiming that the House’s attitude is based on purely political criteria.
And so, the battle continues. Now not motivated by Russia but by Trump’s money and the accusations of obstruction of justice. The Mueller report has not neutralized the war between the president and the opposition. On the contrary: the end of the investigation has removed barriers for the opening of new fronts. The general trend for the next 18 months will be that of poisonous tension, where the election campaign is also going to add extra doses of vitriol to a political landscape marked by civil war rhetoric.