What’s a Constitutional Crisis and Is One About to Happen?

trump and mueller

After intense pressure from Trump and some members of the GOP, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe announced his resignation on Monday. This is the latest in a series of headlines causing widespread fear that a powerful coalition might be working to undermine our country’s democratic institutions. Many in the Democratic party, the media, and the general public are concerned that the US is closing in on a full-blown constitutional crisis.

A “constitutional crisis” is essentially a crisis of government functioning that the Constitution is unable to resolve. It could be that some matter is not clearly addressed by the Constitution and thus gives way to a variety of conflicting interpretations. Or, as is relevant to our present situation, it could mean that there are fundamental disagreements between political factions over which of the three branches of government hold sovereignty in a given situation. The failure to reach consensus on this question results in government dysfunction. Constitutional crises are rare and often hard to name. As if to prove the cloudiness surrounding the matter, Foreign Policy magazine published two op-ed pieces in the same week offering diametrically opposite views the question of whether a looming constitutional crisis exists.

Several voices have been united on one point, however. Many agree that if Trump were to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is currently investigating Trump and his allies for collusion with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign, there would be no little doubt that a constitutional crisis had occurred. Most recently, Senator Corey Booker put forth this argument on CBS This Morning.

Despite Trump’s lawyers best attempts to keep Trump quiet as the Mueller investigation proceeds, damning information has been leaking out like a sieve in recent days. We learned last week that Trump wanted to fire Mueller in June but was talked out of it when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign. Trump called this report “fake news.”

Meanwhile, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, who had recused himself from the House Russia Investigation, proceeded to remain involved in the investigation to such an extent that it caught the eye of the House Ethics Committee. Though Nunes was later cleared by the Ethics Committee and allowed back into his role in the Russia Investigation, new controversy is now afoot because of a memo Nunes authored, supposedly detailing surveillance abuses by the FBI. “Release the memo” has become a conservative rallying cry in recent weeks, as the GOP attempts to seize on any opportunity to undermine the Mueller probe.

Defenders of Trump got their way Monday night when the House Intelligence Committee voted to make the memo public.

Whether Trump and his defenders will decide that they have a case for stopping the Mueller probe is the major question that remains. But with each new revelation of how Trump & Co are building such a case, we seem to be inching closer toward a constitutional crisis.