On Monday, police from several agencies, including the Secret Service, the Park Police and the Washington, D.C., National Guard forcibly removed peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park, outside the White House.
The use of force was conducted so that President Trump could walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he posed for pictures holding a bible, before returning to the executive mansion. He did not speak or enter the church.
In the wake of bipartisan criticism of the government’s action, which included the use of tear gas, the Department of Defense has sought to distance itself from the decision to use force against peaceful civilians 30 minutes before that night’s curfew went into effect.
In an interview with Maryland Matters reporter Bruce DePuyt, Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional scholar, accused the president of having “a complete police-state mentality.”
This is a transcript of their conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.
Maryland Matters: What’s your reaction to what happened on Monday?
Rep. Jamie Raskin: It was literally a photo opportunity. The president had nothing to say. He had no speech of any substance, and he had no presidential proclamation or order. But he crushed the First Amendment rights of thousands of Americans who were assembled there. In one fell swoop, he violated the right to peaceably assemble, the right to petition government for a redress of grievances, the right of free speech, and the right of the press to cover it.
He essentially violated four rights under the First Amendment at once. You can only do that if you have a compelling governmental interest. But this was not in order to rescue an injured citizen. This was not to defend the sovereignty of the country. It was in order for the president to make an unannounced, uninvited visit at a church in order to send the most grotesque and vulgar messages to his followers.
The truly religious people are very upset, because he violated the First Amendment and the First Commandment at the same time. He essentially turned his political agenda into a religious idol, elevating himself above the Lord of the Bible.
MM: What happens if this act — this moment — passes without consequence?
Raskin: The House of Representatives has already handed out the ultimate corrective and antidote to his power, impeachment. The Senate chose the path of partisanship over defense of the Constitution.
At this point we are in a desperate game of defense of the Constitution, the presidential election, the public health and the safety of the people. And this is a game of daily maneuvers at this point, because we’ve already attempted the ultimate sanction but we have a political party that has reduced itself to the level of a religious cult. They have wrapped themselves around the dangerous fantasies and the mania of Donald Trump.
Constitutionally we would have the authority to impeach him again, but it becomes a question of costs and benefits. I wouldn’t count it out but it seems to be a strategy of diminishing returns.
MM: Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee’s Government Operations subcommittee, a panel on which you serve, is demanding that the Secret Service turn over documents and records relating to Monday’s decision-making. What else would you like to see?
Raskin: We are all hellbent determined on getting to the bottom of how Monday night’s travesty of justice took place.
The president promiscuously blends military and civilian lines of authority and he also mixes up personal whim with governmental decision-making, so it will probably take a while to disentangle how exactly that happened.
But ultimately it’s going to go back to the president himself. Those sycophants who went along with it damaged themselves permanently in their careers, but the public has the right to know who they are.
During this period we are seeing law enforcement officers who are working with great integrity and courage, and who are speaking up against police brutality and the excessive use of force in these demonstrations. And we are also seeing law enforcement officers who are disgracing themselves.
Ultimately the truth will be known and the vast majority of the American people stand against these police-state tactics. This is not America. This is not our Constitution. This is an affront to everything that we believe in.
MM: As a constitutional scholar, can you talk about the use of the military against American citizens?
Raskin: Article IV, Section IV of the Constitution is the republican guaranty clause, which says that the United States shall guarantee a republican form of government to the people of the states. And the militia can be only be sent into the states to put down domestic violence at the explicit invitation of the state legislatures — or, if the legislatures are unable to meet, the governors.
No legislature and no governor has asked for the president to federalize and send in the National Guard. And no state is asking for a military invasion. And yet the president cleared the street and trampled the First Amendment rights of all of those citizens — and then proclaimed that he was getting ready, essentially, for a military invasion of the United States.
MM: He berated the governors for being “weak” and warned that if they didn’t crack down on protesters, he would. What sort of constitutional crisis would flow if he sent troops or security personnel into a state that hadn’t requested them?
Raskin: If the president issued an unlawful order to the U.S. military to essentially invade the states, the military commanders should refuse the order. The governors and attorney generals of the states should immediately go to court to stop the order under Article IV, Section IV of the Constitution, and the House of Representatives would undoubtedly leap into action.
The president has begun his final descent into acting like a tinpot dictator who doesn’t understand that real power grows out of respect and trust and fidelity to the law. He thinks that power just grows out of violence and force.
That is a view contemptuous of constitutional democracy and we have to defeat it. We have no alternative.