Donate
News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.
Balance of Power
True
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"While the current battle between Trump and congressional Democrats is newsworthy, it is not entirely new," writes Jennifer Selin.

Trump, Ukraine and a whistleblower: Ever since 1796, Congress has struggled to keep presidents in check

Selin is an assistant professor of Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

George Washington, hero of the American Revolution and the country's first president, in 1796 withheld documents the House of Representatives had requested from him regarding treaty negotiations with France.

Washington thought that giving the House papers respecting a negotiation with a foreign power would be to establish a dangerous precedent.

Washington's reluctance to hand over these documents has echoed through time, in conflicts between Congress and Presidents Monroe, Jefferson, Adams all the way to Presidents Coolidge, Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan, among others. For the most part, members of Congress still must rely on the president and his administration for information in the areas of foreign relations and intelligence.

In the latest version of that long-running tension between Congress and the president over power, Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire appeared before the House Intelligence Committee last week.

The testimony is part of a chain of events that began in August when an anonymous whistleblower filed a complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community, who is tasked by Congress to identify problems in the national intelligence agencies. The complaint related to reports that President Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his family. The developing conflict between Trump and Congress has involved, among other aspects, a struggle over who can have access to crucial documents.

Keep reading... Show less
News. Community. Debate. Levers for better democracy.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter.