Andy Schmookler: Bob Goodlatte’s violation of his oath of office

In early April, I issued a public challenge to Bob Goodlatte to debate me on the proposition: The American people have probable cause to believe that President Trump represents a threat to our constitutional order.

andy schmooklerGoodlatte is not only our representative in Congress (and not only someone I debated three times during the 2012 election campaign). He is also the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, a position that carries great responsibilities in times like these. Because it is there, in that Committee, that inquiry into possible impeachable offenses is supposed to begin.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Goodlatte never responded to me. It’s not surprising because any congressman who is making news for avoiding his constituents, as Goodlatte is, is hardly likely to agree to a public forum in which his failure to honor his sworn oath to “protect and defend the Constitution” will be exposed.

Goodlatte did give a reply of sorts when pressed by the media, but it was wholly non-responsive. It failed even to mention either of the two crucial matters I was raising– ignoring both the issue of possible (or even probable) impeachable offenses committed by President Trump, and the issue of what Mr. Goodlatte’s oath of office requires of him in this situation.

Anyone attentive to the news should know: there are good reasons to believe that President Trump has violated the constitutional system our founders gave us.

One good reason concerns financial corruption, and in particular the “emoluments clause” of the Constitution. Just on the evidence already before our eyes, there are strong reasons to suspect the president is sacrificing the interests of the United States in favor of his own private financial gain.

The second matter is, if anything, even more significant: the possible collusion by Mr. Trump and his inner circle with Russia — i.e. with a nation hostile to the United States — to tilt the presidential election of 2016. (The integrity of our elections is, of course, at the heart of our constitutional system.) The evidence for such collusion is already substantial, and growing.

This is not a small matter, and in my challenge to Goodlatte I already indicated that I would not let it drop. I declared that if he neither agreed to debate me, nor publicly agreed with the above proposition, nor began appropriate hearings in the House Judiciary Committee, I would proceed to issue another challenge.

This challenge would be to the Republican’s 6th District Committee, and it would be for them to designate any person of their choice to debate me on the proposition:

Representative Bob Goodlatte is violating his oath of office to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

I have now issued that challenge. In a letter sent to the Chair of that Committee, Scott Sayre of Rockbridge County, I propose that the debate take place in the Board of Supervisors’ room in the Rockingham County Government Building, 20 East Gay Street in Harrisonburg, at 7:30 on Thursday evening, May 11.

If they send no one, I will present my position to the assembled members of the public and the media who have come to witness the event.

An oath is supposed to be an absolute commitment. Not “if it’s convenient.” Not “if it’s compatible with my political ambitions.” But “no matter what.” That’s why our founders put that oath into the Constitution itself.

A lack of absolute proof of guilt is no excuse for inaction. At the time of Watergate, back in 1973-74, the House Judiciary Committee began its investigations before it had evidence directly connecting President Nixon with the crimes that had been committed. It was the Committee’s investigation that uncovered that evidence.

Investigation comes first. A bill of impeachment – if it proves warranted after the facts have been discovered – is the final step the House would take.

It is the Committee Rep. Goodlatte leads whose responsibility it is to begin the appropriate investigations into these possible – even probable – impeachable offenses. (That’s not the job of FBI or the Intelligence Committees: they have different agendas to match their different responsibilities.)

The Republican Party has long postured about caring about the Constitution. But the Republicans in Congress are revealing that to be mere hypocrisy. With few exceptions, they are choosing to protect the president and not the Constitution they’ve sworn to defend.

We have seen how the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee – Rep. Kevin Nunes – has compromised himself in just that way. Nunes is now the object of investigation by the House Ethics Committee. It now appears that the Republican Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee – Sen. Richard Burr — is similarly stonewalling any progress on that investigation.

It is time now to shine the spotlight similarly on Rep. Goodlatte, who at a time of genuine crisis for American democracy, is likewise putting loyalty to Party ahead of loyalty to America.

Over the generations, Americans have died to protect the constitutional system our Founders gave us. No real patriot should stand by and allow that system to be degraded and dismantled by those the public have entrusted with the task of protecting it.

Column by Andy Schmookler