Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN-09) sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr Friday asking him to clarify President Donald Trump’s comments about the use of emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the letter, President Trump “has repeatedly suggested he may use unspecified emergency powers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The letter cites the president’s March 12 comment that he has “the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about,” including “a lot of emergency actions that I can take.”
“During an April 14 press briefing, the President asserted ‘total’ authority to force state and local governments to rescind public health measures. When challenged about his claims, President Trump said his administration would ‘write up papers’ or a ‘legal brief’ justifying these positions,” says the letter, which was cosigned by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY-10).
Cohen and Nadler said it’s “unclear” what the president is referring to, but his comments “suggest that his administration has produced or may soon produce documents purporting to support the use of extraordinary legal authorities in response to the pandemic.”
“Such documents would likely undergo review by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The president may also be referencing ‘Presidential Emergency Action Documents,’ which may contain contingency plans by this administration or its predecessors for the government’s response to a pandemic,” the letter continues.
In light of the “president’s threats to invoke these hidden emergency powers,” Cohen asked Barr to brief the House Judiciary Committee on the administration’s “anticipated use of emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It also asks the Department of Justice to hand over any “documents or communications” that describe or analyze the “legality of the president’s potential use of emergency authorities.”
“While the federal government must respond swiftly and energetically to protect the public health during this pandemic, the president cannot use the current crisis to assert secret and unreviewable powers,” the letter concludes.
In a similar letter sent to the House Democratic Caucus earlier this month, Cohen and Nadler sought to explain Trump’s “actual legal and constitutional authority in this area.”
“The President’s authority is limited to the enumerated powers given to him by the Constitution and to those delegated to him by acts of Congress. Even within those spheres, he cannot exercise his authorities in ways that violate Americans’ civil rights and civil liberties,” that letter said.
They went on to accuse the president of threatening to assert “dictatorial power.”
“It is not new for a president to stretch the limits of his power during a time of emergency. But for perhaps the first time in our history, a president dangled emergency powers as a way to hinder, rather than help, our response. Whatever his purpose or ultimate plans, President Trump cannot ignore the structure of our Constitution and the basic checks and balances put in place by our Founders,” the letter concluded.
Cohen has repeatedly criticized the president on Twitter throughout the pandemic, saying he’s “President Trump, not King Trump.”
Trump does not have “total” authority to “reopen the economy” & he can’t order states to relax #SocialDistancing measures. He can’t ignore our #Constitution & the basic checks and balances put in place by our founders. He’s President Trump, not #KingTrump. #CoronavirusPandemic https://t.co/yifh0LORpW
— Steve Cohen (@RepCohen) April 16, 2020
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun and The Ohio Star. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “DOJ Building” by Baseball Watcher. CC BY-SA 3.0.