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Issues & Insights

Sondland’s Presumptions, And All The Presidents’ Powers

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

I&I Editorial

Despite the establishment media’s declarations that U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland provided the smoking gun proving that President Donald Trump conditioned military aid to Ukraine on its government investigating the energy company Burisma and the 2016 election, Sondland soon told us this was merely his “presumption.”

We already knew from the transcript of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that aid being conditional on investigating the Bidens was a stretch, certainly nothing near the evidence that would be needed in any respectable court.

Witnesses and Democrats on Rep. Adam Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee made much of unofficial channels being used to conduct foreign policy, such as the efforts of Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani – hardly a surprise since these witnesses are all part of the official foreign policy bureaucracy that includes more than 77,000 employees of the State Department alone, each of whom is all too happy to justify their collective existence.

As Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper said in her private deposition earlier in the month, and reiterated on Wednesday, “my sense is that all of the senior leaders of the U.S. national security departments and agencies were all unified … in their view that this assistance was essential.” Cooper added that “they were trying to find ways to engage the president on this.”

The president ultimately agreed it was essential. But why would they be trying to engage the president? Because they wanted to convince the only “official” in the executive branch who really matters, the one who – unlike them – is bestowed by the Constitution with massive power in executing the foreign policy of the United States. The one for whom they work – as advisers whose advice the president is entitled to heed or ignore, or anything in between, at will.

Those who think such near-total control is irresponsible might want to consider the observations of Edward Samuel Corwin, a famed president of the American Political Science Association brought into the Princeton University faculty in 1905 by Woodrow Wilson, and author in 1940 of “The President, Office and Powers.”

As Corwin opined: “A solitary genius who valued the opportunity for reflection above that for counsel, Lincoln came to regard Congress as a more or less necessary nuisance and the Cabinet as a usually unnecessary one.” That’s Honest Abe, not Tweeting Don.

Supreme Court: President Is ‘Sole Organ’ of Foreign Policy

Georgetown law professor for more than 50 years and ex-State Department attorney Don Wallace, Jr., in an article entitled “The President’s Exclusive Foreign Affairs Powers Over Foreign Aid,” noted GOP President Dwight Eisenhower declaring, “As president I have taken an oath to defend the Constitution. I therefore oppose any change which will impair the president’s traditional authority to conduct foreign affairs.”

He also quoted Democratic President James Buchanan’s contention “that the people have ‘rights and prerogatives’ in the president’s execution of his office which each president is under a duty to see ‘shall never be violated in his person’ and shall ‘pass on to his successors unimpaired by the adoption of a dangerous precedent.’”

Those rights and prerogatives are tremendous and unshared when it comes to conducting U.S. foreign policy, as strongly affirmed 7-to-1 by the Supreme Court in the 1936 Curtiss-Wright decision.

The court described them as “the very delicate, plenary and exclusive power of the president as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations – a power which does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress but which, of course, like every other governmental power, must be exercised in subordination to the applicable provisions of the Constitution.” (Emphasis added.)

The court’s reasoning was that, without it getting into the details, the Constitution gives the president full power to conduct foreign policy in stating at the beginning of Article II, section 2 that “The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.”

The question of whether this or that private presidential conversation – listened in on at remote locations by a veritable army of bureaucrats – contains untoward assertions or requests is secondary to another question: How can any president possibly act effectively as “the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations” not requiring “as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress” if those listening can run to a politically hostile Congress with their accusations of impropriety?

When these presidential powers, and the obvious threat to them, are understood, the weakness of basing any case for the impeachment of Trump on what was just served up by Sondland and other presidential servants before Schiff’s committee becomes clear.

— Written by Thomas McArdle


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2 comments

  • But we’ve been told that the President’s actions contradicted official US foreign policy and that Lt.Col.Vindman is the one who actually determines US policy on Ukraine. Apparently he is his boss’s boss. Dr. Hill explained to us that since Russia hacked the DNC and Podesta emails, it is an absurd conspiracy theory to even suggest that Ukraine may have meddled as well. Even though officials in the Ukraine, the DNC contractor who coordinated some of the meddling, as well as the Ukrainian embassy in the US have confirmed that theory, we should treat it is unsubstantiated and without evidence. Nearly every witness has confirmed what the whistleblower said. Trump’s underlings know more and should rightly be in charge of US foreign policy, you know because the person that voters put in charge isn’t as patriotic and virtuous as those who are duty bound to execute his policies.

  • I spent thirty years in government. I was always more knowledgeable than the elected representatives. Sometimes they listened to me and took my recommendations. However, at the end of the day they had the authority as duly elected representatives to “accept, modify, or reject” my recommendations. We have created an arrogant unelected barely accountable administrative aristocracy that has given us open borders; terrorist attacks in our country; the degradation of income and prospects for a large part of our society; the empowerment of a strategic competitor in China; numerous casualties; trillions of dollars wasted; and, twenty years of fruitless war. And, what they have done in terms of death; mayhem and depravation for millions in the Middle East and North Africa would be worthy of crimes against humanity. No President in their right mind would do what they want without significant deliberation and other channels of information.

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Issues & Insights is a new site formed by the seasoned journalists behind the legendary IBD Editorials page. Our goal is to bring our decades of combined journalism experience to help readers understand the top issues of the day. We’re doing this on a voluntary basis, because we believe the nation needs the kind of cogent, rational, data-driven, fact-based commentary that we can provide. 

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