by Printus LeBlanc
When the framers created the government, it was split into three coequal branches; the Congressional, Executive, and Judicial branches. Articles I through III describe the duties, responsibilities, and powers assigned to each branch of the government. However, one of those branches seems to be the redheaded stepchild of the government lately.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news over the last several years, you know the House of Representatives, and more recently the Senate, have been engaged in a fierce battle with executive branch agencies over documents about congressional investigations. The agencies routinely ignore requests from Congress or flat out lie when questioned under oath. Unfortunately, this is nothing new.
In 2013, the IRS admitted it was guilty of targeting conservative groups when it apologized for the act. Members of Congress were furious and immediately launched investigations. The IRS employee at the center of the targeting scandal, Lois Lerner, pled the Fifth Amendment right to non-incrimination when called before committees. The committees were left with no alternative but to subpoena documents.
In a pattern that has become all too familiar, the requested documents were destroyed after the subpoenas were issued. The IRS said the emails were lost when, mysteriously, the exact hard drives containing the emails requested crashed, and the IRS destroyed the hard drives. Once it became known there were back up tapes of the emails, Congress asked for the backup tapes.
But as is the usual modus operandi for these agencies, the backup tapes were destroyed despite being given a subpoena to keep them. What is most aggravating about the issue is the backup tapes were erased eight months after Congress requested the documents. This is not like Congress issued the order and the next day the tapes were burned by an employee that didn’t get the message. The IRS deliberately ignored Congress and the Inspector General for the Treasury Department says so stating, “The IRS did not put forth an effort to locate and preserve the backup tapes.”
Did Congress impeach any IRS employee for the targeting people for their political belief? No. Did Congress impeach any employee for destroying evidence? No. The IRS ignored Congress and looked them in the eye and said, “you don’t matter,” and got away with it. Is it any wonder why the executive branch looks down on Congress?
Another scandal in which Congress was ignored was the Fast and Furious debacle. Between 2006 and 2011 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allowed firearms dealers to illegally sell weapons to customers they knew were taking the weapons to someone else. This is known as a straw purchase. The ATF wanted to “follow” the weapons in hopes the illegally purchased weapons would lead them to Mexican drug cartel leaders. This led to thousands of illegal weapons flooding the streets of Mexico.
During the course of the operation, the ATF lost track of over 2,000 weapons, and one of them was used to kill a U.S. federal law enforcement officer, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. A whistleblower came forward to tell the Senate what was really happening, federal agent John Dodson. From there the scandal exploded, and committees on both sides Congress commenced hearings.
Despite the fast start to the Congressional investigations, things would quickly grind to a halt. The impediment was the executive branch. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and ATF were refusing to cooperate with Congress. Committees would ask for documents, as part of its constitutionally mandated job, and the committees would get heavily redacted documents or nothing at all.
The House would eventually hold then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to cooperate. Despite the bipartisan vote, no charges were filed, no salaries were docked, nor was Holder or anyone else at the DOJ or ATF impeached. The Obama administration got away with spitting in the face of Congress.
Now once again Congress is struggling to get documents from the DOJ about the ongoing investigation into Russia collusion that appear to implicate the Obama administration in using the surveillance tools of the federal government against the opposition party, the Trump campaign, in an election year. Will all the documents be preserved this time?
Congress has options at its disposal to rectify the situation but refuses to use them. It is no accident Article I is about Congress and not the other two branches. Congress was given the “power of the purse” for a reason. Congress can defund a department or office that is ignoring requests. Congress can Holman Rule or impeach individual federal employees that are not cooperating with investigations or are bad actors. But Congress has so far refused to use the weapons to reclaim the Constitutional power the framers gave it.
The most recent example came last night when the House was give the opportunity to support an amendment by U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to H.R. 5895, Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2019 that would reduce the salary of Mark Gabriel, the Administrator of the Western Area Power Administration, to $1. Gabriel was insubordinate and to make matters worse, on his watch federal employees used federal credit cards to buy $6.8 million of personal items. But the House did nothing, with the vote failing, 139 to 276.
If Congress wants to be treated as an equal branch of government, as the Constitution intended, it should start acting like it. Members of the executive branch have lied, misled, and ignored Congress for decades. Has Congress held anyone responsible? No. How can Congress expect the rest of the government, let alone the taxpayers, to take it seriously if they cannot fulfill their basic constitutional duties? At this point, Congress is nothing more than an ATM for a corrupt, out of control and unaccountable bureaucracy.
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Printus LeBlanc is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government.