You know who I’m talking about, when I say that he is giving us a great lesson in civics. Yes, I’m talking about the President of the United States of America. He heads the Executive Branch. Many Americans may think that that is the only branch that matters. But, for those of us who already took civics in high school – and remember it – we know that there are those two other branches, which are understood to be “co-equal” branches. Co-equal means that they possess power equal to that of the Executive Branch and each other. This is known as the “separation of powers”. It is this separation of powers that provides what is known as “checks and balances”. Those other two branches are Congress and the Judiciary.
Congress is, at the moment, attempting to check the power of the President, by issuing subpoenas to individuals and departments of the Executive Branch. A subpoena is the way in which Congress is empowered to force those that they are investigating to take some action, such as deliver the President’s tax returns, testify before Congress and so on. A committee of Congress has issued subpoenas because they have reason to believe that the President has committed crimes. The “reason to believe” was supplied by the still-incompletely delivered Mueller Report, which provides evidence of obstruction of justice by the President … and perhaps other crimes, up to and including treason. This activity is known as “oversight” – that Congress is charged with looking into the activities of the Executive Branch, to ensure the legality of its actions.
But the President has ordered that no one or department in the Executive Branch may respond to the Congressional subpoenas that have and continue to be issued, including one to his former lawyer who is no longer a government employee (!). This is an action without precedent in our history. Resolution of this stand-off now goes to that third branch of government, the Judiciary (aka the Courts). The matter(s) will be decided by a judge (or judges), who determine what the law requires and who issue a court order (s) to obtain compliance.
Yesterday, a judge found in favor of Congress, and ordered the President’s accounting firm to hand over Trump financial records. Will they do it? What if they don’t? They, the accounting firm, would then be liable to penalties. And the President’s former lawyer, Don McGahn, is also (I’m assuming) liable to penalties, since he was acting as a private citizen when, yesterday, he failed to comply with a subpoena to testify.
Federal court orders are enforced by federal law enforcement personnel i.e federal marshals. But, since such personnel are employees of the Justice Department, which is a part of the Executive Branch, the President could, conceivably, order federal marshals not to comply with orders from the Judiciary to enforce a court order. What then? Will it come to that?
I am not at all sanguine about the willingness of the President to obey court orders, now or later. His other former lawyer, Michael Cohen, ended his testimony before Congress by stating that he believed that the President would not yield office if he lost the 2020 election. I believe that the evidence shows that the President wishes to take full control of the federal government i.e. that he wishes to become a dictator in the manner of Putin or any of the other autocratic leaders he so admires.