Impeached President Donald J. Trump just completed a total reversal on his position about testimony from the key witness in his onrushing Senate trial. He now says he will attempt to use executive privilege to block his former National Security Advisor (NSA) from appearing as a witness in the case.
It’s both a legally and historically dubious claim in the face of impeachment proceedings, which the Speaker of the House just announced will proceed to trial next week.
On Monday, the former NSA and ex-UN Amb. John Bolton announced that he would appear at a Senate impeachment trial if compelled to testify, blindsiding the White House.
Yesterday, the President held a press conference on his ambitious plans to allow polluters free rein, where he was asked by reporters if he had a problem letting Bolton testify. He replied: “I don’t stop it.”
But today, Trump completely flip-flopped and announced that he plans to invoke executive privilege in a last-ditch effort to block the former NSA from testifying to the Senate.
After former national security adviser John Bolton said this week he would be willing to testify in the impeachment trial if called, Trump expressed concern about the precedent it would set.
Asked if he would invoke executive privilege to stop it, Trump said, “Well, I think you have to for the sake of the office.”
Donald Trump’s rapid reversal could be a sign that he won’t have the Republican votes necessary to hold as unfair a trial as he’d like Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to engineer since only three to four defections from his party would be enough to subpoena witnesses to testify.
Executive privilege is the right of the President to shield certain communications and documents from Congressional or judicial oversight under very specific circumstances.
Though President Dwight D. Eisenhower coined the term “executive privilege,” its origins actually date to President George Washington’s refusal to surrender certain documents to a Congressional subpoena in 1792. Even he said that impeachment would rend the privilege to withhold records asunder.
A conservative legal expert weighed in recently to say that executive privilege won’t ultimately shield Trump’s communications, records or aides from testimony. Late last year, Trump lost a major ruling in his attempt to use the privilege to prevent testimony entirely and is still litigating that case in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, where it is likely destined to set a lasting president that will limit the use of the power forever.
Finally, the courts limited the use of executive privilege in the famous Supreme Court case, U.S. vs. Nixon, when President Richard Nixon tried to withhold White House recordings but ultimately was ordered by the court to deliver the material to the Watergate special prosecutor’s grand jury investigation. Nixon handed over the “smoking gun tapes” confirming that he knew about the Watergate break-in which he covered up, and he resigned three days later, just two weeks after the House Judiciary Committee had voted to approve three articles of impeachment against him.
A well-placed source on Capitol Hill told Occupy Democrats earlier today that Speaker Pelosi’s evolving knowledge of former NSA John Bolton’s testimony is one of the determining factors in releasing her hold on the articles of impeachment.
President Trump’s do-or-die effort to stop Bolton from testifying only highlights how damaging the totality of what he could tell the Senators must be when taking into consideration his stature as a deeply confirmed hard-right ideologue with a high level of respect inside the Republican party.
Yet, nobody knows if Senate Republicans will set partisanship aside and after a fair trial convict Trump of abuse of power, regardless of how damning the facts that Ambassador Bolton or any other potential witnesses present because what has come out already supports finding Trump guilty and he hasn’t presented even a single scrap of evidence or even a serious argument in his own defense.
Grant Stern is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition