President Obama continues to keep secret the documents on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Congressmen can see the documents only if they pledge not to reveal the contents.
Then why doesn’t Congress just subpoena the entire contents of the documents and publish them on the website of the Library of Congress? In 2003 the Congressional Research Service explained in a 39-page report, “Congressional Investigations: Subpoena and Contempt Power”:
“When conducting investigations of the executive branch, congressional committees and Members of Congress generally receive the information required for legislative needs. If agencies fail to cooperate or the President invokes executive privilege, Congress can turn to a number of legislative powers that are likely to compel compliance. The two techniques described in this report are the issuance of subpoenas and the holding of executive officials in contempt. These techniques usually lead to an accommodation that meets the needs of both branches. Litigation is used at times, but federal judges generally encourage congressional and executive parties to settle their differences out of court.”
The most dramatic recent use of these powers was over the Fast and Furious scandal. From 2009 to 11, the Obama administration secretly sent heavy arms into Mexico for the drug cartels, hoping the arms would be sent back up to El Norte. The tracing of the shipments then was supposed to lead to the arrest of American weapons dealers, hurting the pro-gun cause. Instead, Fast and Furious led to the death of U.S. border agent Brian Terry and “countless” Mexicans murdered.
In 2012, Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt by Congress for refusing to turn over Fast and Furious documents to congressional investigators. Yet he stayed in office until earlier this year because Congress refused to impeach and remove him from office.
The TPP deal is different because Congress, now controlled by Republicans in both houses, has more leverage. It could tell Obama that, unless the documents are released under the subpoena, it won’t even take up the matter at all.
Of course, the real problem is that the GOP leaders in Congress, in particular House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are in the pockets of the same oligarchs who will benefit from whatever is in these secret documents.
I’m reminded of the first of President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points from January 1918 that formed part of the peace agreements that ended the war: “I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.”
I’m generally not a fan of our 28th vozhd, as I wrote in Chronicles a year ago, but he was right on that one; not that it could have been enforced. The secret Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939, including a trade-deal, started World War II with horrors even greater than those of World War I.
But shouldn’t Congress, at least, insist on “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at” – instead of stealth deals?
“Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, has written a scathing new letter to President Barack Obama pressuring him to explain why Obamatrade has been so secretive.
Some of the letter’s contents:
“On May 6th of this year, I sent you a letter (enclosed) regarding your request for Congress to grant you fast-track executive authority. Under fast-track, Congress transfers its authority to the executive and agrees to give up several of its most basic powers….
“In other words, through fast-track, Congress would be pre-clearing a political and economic union before a word of that arrangement has been made available to a single private citizen.”
Perhaps the good senator will start sending out subpoenas.