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It’s safe to say at this point in the Trump presidency that the long-predicted constitutional crisis between the White House and Congress has arrived. If there was any doubt, last week’s extremely heated exchanges between Senate Judiciary Committee members and Attorney General William Barr blew away any semblance of cooperation between the legislative and executive branches of government. Unfortunately for the nation, the conflict is going to get much worse and may ultimately lead to articles of impeachment against William Barr and Donald Trump.

Barr, in his role as Trump’s most recent attorney general, is the nation’s top law official. His job is supposed to be overseeing the Department of Justice, representing the United States in legal matters, and ensuring the rule of law in our democracy based on three separate but equal branches of government. Those three branches of government are supposed to provide the checks and balances necessary to ensure that no one person or branch of government abuses power or defies the law and Constitution.

As witnessed by millions of viewers, Barr’s appearance before the Senate committee was hardly a shining example of respect for or adherence to the Constitution all federal officials swear an oath to uphold. Many have already pointed out that Barr seems to be acting more like Trump’s personal lawyer than the attorney general of the United States starting with his four-page “summary” of Special Counsel Mueller’s 400-page report on the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections to benefit the Trump campaign.

Now it’s revealed that Mueller did not approve of Barr’s summary and sent not one but two letters urging a more accurate portrayal of his findings rather than bolstering Trump’s claim of “total exoneration” on a host of issues ranging from shady financial dealings with foreign banks to numerous and obvious instances of obstruction of justice as Trump tried to derail the Mueller investigation. But Barr testified last month that he was unaware of Mueller’s concerns, prompting a highly critical comment from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who said: “He lied to Congress. The attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That’s a crime.”

Adding to the angst, Barr has refused to appear before the House Judiciary Committee, despite being summoned to do so, saying he didn’t approve of the format in which the committee’s legal counsel would be allowed to question him. The attorney general does not, however, have the legal right to refuse congressional summons or set the agenda for congressional hearings. Being the attorney general, Barr should understand that.

Nor does President Trump understand the constitutional limits of his office and is steadfast in his determination to “oppose all the subpoenas” congressional committees may issue for members of his administration past or present. Even worse, Trump has claimed that if Congress tries to impeach him he will turn to the Supreme Court, apparently unaware of the fact that the court has no jurisdiction whatsoever over impeachment proceedings.

Now we may actually see Congress attempt to arrest administration members who ignore subpoenas to appear before committees. When questioned as to that possibility, Speaker Pelosi replied: “There’s a process involved here.”

As Ralph Nader wrote recently: “Trump himself has said that he will be secure so long as the police and military are with him. Get ready for a fast-approaching major constitutional crisis with Congress and adherents of the rule of law.” Unfortunately, there’s no more waiting for the “major constitutional crisis” — it is upon us.

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George Ochenski writes from Helena. His column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page. He can be reached by email at oped@missoulian.com.

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