Tribune Editorial: Ambition must be made to counteract ambition

Attorney General William Barr testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 1, 2019, on the Mueller report. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”

James Madison, Federalist No. 51

Mr. Madison’s plan for the survival of popular government was nowhere to be seen last week, as Republican members of Congress put their loyalty to a president of their own party ahead of their sworn duty to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

By abandoning the role the Constitution assigns them, to jealously defend the power of their branch of government against encroachments by other branches, Republicans in Congress surrender their duty, their power and their part in defending American democracy.

Ambition no longer counteracts ambition.

And for what?

To get themselves on the good side of a chief executive who is so clearly corrupt, engaging in obstruction, campaign and ethics violations, using the presidency as a cash cow for his personal business interests, who disrespects the separation of powers, freedom of the press, the rights of minorities and immigrants and our long-standing international alliances.

Some will look at the situation and argue that the Democrats are being as partisan in their questioning of the president and his attorney general as the Republicans are in their defense of both.

Maybe. But there can be no question that, at least in the matter that was before the Senate Judiciary Committee the other day, these blind squirrels have come upon a very large cache of nuts.

Senate Republicans, including Utah’s Mike Lee, spent the day feeding Attorney General William Barr softball questions and trying to make the case that there was nothing to see, there’s no collusion and no corruption and no obstruction of justice. Time to move along.

These are arguments that can only come from willful partisan ignorance of the facts as they are before us.

The report from special counsel Robert Mueller laid out a litany of fishy contacts during the campaign and acts by the new president that would have been obstruction of justice if anyone had carried out the president’s orders. Or if it were considered possible, as Justice Department guidelines faithfully followed by the Mueller team says it is not, to indict a sitting president.

Mueller’s handicap through all of this is that he is an honorable man who stands by the rule of law, operating in a city that is neither. Investigating a president through the federal grand jury system is difficult because prosecutors are used to assembling and presenting their evidence in secret and only making it public if there is an indictment — which triggers a process in which the accused is able to defend himself.

No indictment, because the president can’t be indicted, means no trial. Means no chance for the president to defend himself. Means it all gets packed up and delivered to the attorney general and then, maybe, to Congress and to the American people.

One bright spot in all of this — small but important — is the call from Utah’s other senator, Mitt Romney, for Congress to hear from Mueller directly. That is exactly what should happen, and soon.

It may be painful for the special counsel to publicly call out the attorney general for willfully misrepresenting — that is, lying about — the conclusions of his report and the underlying evidence.

But Mueller can handle it. Even if the Republicans in Congress cannot.