We’ve been watching the judicial gyrations over the fate of retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn for weeks. Each week a new esoteric detail pursuant to the final adjudication of his case emerges. One thing we can count on, since Flynn briefly worked as President Trump’s national security adviser – Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other members of Democratic leadership, sternly reminding us that “no one is above the law.” (A close cousin of “we are all equal under the law.”)
Pelosi, et al., do this to oppose dropping of charges against Flynn for lying. They fail to mention that Flynn was coerced into his plea. But this column is not about how he came to this situation.
Instead, it is about the demonstrably false proclamation that “no one is above the law.”
It turns out that members of Congress, in particular, are emphatically above the law, as you will see shortly. Further, the law means something only when those charged with enforcing it actually do so. The mere existence of words on paper has no effect on behavior; speed limits prove the point.
In the committee hearings we see on TV, witnesses are sworn in with this oath:
“Do you solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”
Imagine if I were called as a witness and asked to take this oath, and replied, “I will take this oath if you take it with me, and every member of the committee, and any staff who will testify, take it as well.”
Can you guess the response? I can hear the chair angrily say, “The witness will suspend, and will be held in contempt,” eyes a-bulge and face flushed with righteousness.
So why aren’t members of Congress held to the same standards as those who come before them? Various individuals are indicted, convicted and sentenced for “lying to Congress” and similar “crimes.” Yet the members lie as they will, knowing they suffer no legal exposure for doing so. Each is immune from consequences for barefaced public lying.
How can this be, when “no one is above the law”? The Speech and Debate Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 6) reads “… for any Speech or Debate in either House, (senators and representatives) shall not be questioned in any other Place.” In the 1973 ruling Doe v. McMillan, “… the (Supreme) Court has held that the clause protects such acts as voting, the conduct of committee hearings, the issuance and distribution of committee reports, the subpoenaing of information required in the course of congressional investigations, and even the reading of stolen classified materials into a subcommittee’s public record,” Senior U.S. District Judge James L. Buckley wrote in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution.
In other words, members of Congress cannot be held to account for any lies they tell as part of their official work, including that “no one is above the law.”
Given that Congress is constitutionally above the law, how can we trust anything they say in the conduct of official business “of the people”? The sad truth is that we cannot.
Further, there is little if any law that addresses honor, integrity, ethics and accountability, to name a few principles of personal conduct. While Congress has “Ethics Committees” and rules, these do not have the force of or the penalties of law that mere mortals must live by. They exist mostly for show purposes. And don’t forget their hush money slush fund, the details of which they kept from our eyes for years.
The facts are irrefutable. When senators and representatives say “no one is above the law,” they are lying unashamedly, and even worse, blatantly disrespecting us as they do. They seem convinced we are too dumb to know any better, and too wobbly to challenge them if we did.
For those who remind us that “we are a nation of laws,” notice they never mention that some of those laws protect them from charges of lying, and that all laws are selectively applied. So the platitude, while a lovely thought, embodies no hazard for them, and scarce comfort for us.
This item was originally published in the Portland Press Herald.