Since joining the Trump administration as attorney general in early 2019, Bill Barr has stood firmly behind Donald Trump against Democrats’ attacks. But now, his Justice Department has just made a move that sent shockwaves through Washington.
According to The Hill, James Burnham, an attorney for the Department of Justice (DOJ), argued Thursday that Congress cannot sue the executive branch — including for refusing to comply with subpoenas.
Use your legislative tools
The argument put forth by Burnham, which came in defense of the Trump administration’s refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena for documents related to the citizenship question, glaringly conflicts with the defense Trump has put forth in his impeachment trial.
The Hill reported: “The House Oversight and Reform Committee sued Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in November for refusing to comply with its subpoenas” related to the now-abandoned citizenship question proposed to be added to the 2020 census.
Arguing on behalf of the White House, Burnham stated: “If they [the subpoenas] are enforceable in the courts, that would be a revolution in the history of the relationship between the branches. These cases would multiply like rabbits.”
Burnham’s point was that Congress has many tools at its disposal to enforce its subpoenas, but the judicial system should not be one of them. Burnham instead suggested legislative powers, including impeachment, were the correct avenues.
The presiding judge, D.C. District Judge Randolph D. Moss, seemed taken aback by the argument. “It seems to be kind of remarkable to suggest that Congress as an institution can’t enforce its subpoenas,” Moss said.
How Burnham came up with this defense is not known, but it clearly was not discussed with Barr or the White House.
At the heart of Trump’s impeachment defense is that the obstruction charges against him are bogus due to the fact Democrats refused to allow the subpoena cases to play out in the courts. Instead, they rushed into action and impeached him prematurely.
House impeachment manager Adam Schiff (D-CA) didn’t hesitate to pounce on the apparent contradiction by the Trump administration in his Thursday arguments before the Senate.
“Today, while we’ve been debating whether a president can be impeached for essentially bogus claims of privilege, for attempting to use the courts to cover up misconduct, the Justice Department in resisting House subpoenas, is in court today,” he said, according to Law & Crime. “So the judge says, ‘If the Congress can’t enforce its subpoenas in court, then what remedy is there?’ And the Justice Department lawyer’s response is: ‘Impeachment! Impeachment!’”
Looks like Barr’s attorney has some explaining to do.