Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday expressing his view that partisan Congressional investigations into the personal and business dealings of President Donald Trump before taking office may run outside the scope prescribed by the Constitution.
“Last week, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee requested the IRS turn over years’ worth of President Trump’s personal and business tax returns,” Byrne said. “These are returns that cover business decisions and dealings long before the president came to office.”
“Similarly, the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform has indicated that his committee will examine allegations regarding how the president valued real estate, among other business decisions, long before the president was elected,” Byrne continued. “He has also indicated he may call members of the president’s family to testify about these and other Trump Organization dealings. These actions are not only blatantly partisan but raise serious constitutional concerns.”
“Our system is one of limited powers, of checks and balances,” Byrne said. “The Congress is not a law enforcement agency. It is not a court of law. It is a legislative body. Beside me are the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, someone I would say most on the other side hold in high esteem: ‘There is no general authority to expose the private affairs of individuals without justification in terms of the functions of the Congress … Investigations conducted solely for the personal aggrandizement of the investigators or to punish those investigated are indefensible.’”
“As the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed, investigations conducted by this House must be related to, and be in furtherance of, a legitimate task of the Congress,” Byrne said. “The Court has particularly warned that investigations of the private affairs of individuals are off limits without a clear connection to this body’s constitutional functions. Rightly so. We are a nation of laws and of liberty. The president’s political opponents tried and failed to make his tax returns and his business dealings an issue in the 2016 presidential election. The American people settled that issue at the ballot box.”
“It is absolutely clear that the majority does not seek the president’s tax returns, information about his business or to haul his family before Congress in an effort to pass new laws or for some other legislative purposes,” Byrne said. “These investigations are a thinly veiled attempt to use the powers of this chamber to provide ammunition for the 2020 election. Mr. Speaker, each of us swears a duty to uphold the Constitution. Each of us has a responsibility to ensure that our actions conform within its boundaries and its principles. I urge the majority to remember that obligation and to reconsider this course.”
“The investigatory power of this institution is absolutely critical to our function as a coequal and independent branch of government,” Byrne continued on the floor. “Excesses by the body led to intervention by the Supreme Court and an over 40-year period where the right of the Congress to compel testimony was called into question. Again, in the 1950s, the court was forced to intervene to stop the excesses of the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Let’s be clear, these so-called investigations set a dangerous precedent. The majority wants to use Congress to investigate the past personal and business dealings of an elected official and his family. This is yet another attempt to coerce and intimidate people with whom they disagree. This isn’t legitimate. This is a witch hunt. And, it threatens to undermine legitimate investigations in the future.”
“I ask the majority to think very hard about their constitutional obligations and what these partisan attacks against the president will mean for the future of this House,” Byrne concluded. “It is your right to oppose the president at the ballot box, not to use the powers of this body to score political points. There is no legitimate purpose for this Congress to investigate the president or his family before he was elected to office.”
According to Attorney General William Barr, the Robert Mueller-led special counsel investigation found no evidence that Trump nor his campaign colluded with Russian intelligence agencies during the 2016 election. Despite this, House Democrats continue a number of investigations into the president’s finances, and many have said they want the Mueller report to be released in its entirety.
Byrne has announced he is a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Doug Jones, D-Alabama.