SHARE

The appearance of the American president having loyalty to a foreign adversary is dangerous.

A number of scandals surrounding the White House seem to be coming to a head right as President Donald Trump prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address. Yesterday, notably, the State Department announced that it would not be imposing sanctions on Russia, despite a sanctions measure passed overwhelmingly by Congress last year. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), among others, has announced that we are in a constitutional crisis as a result. Is this right?

There’s unfortunately no easy way to answer this question. Last year, Julia Azari and I wrote a post outlining what we saw as four main types of constitutional crises. These involved instances where 1) the Constitution was silent, 2) the Constitution was hopelessly vague, 3) the Constitution’s intent was clear but politically infeasible, and 4) institutions simply fail. Trump’s failure to enforce the expressed will of the law would seem to fall into category 4 — one branch of the federal government is defying another and running afoul of the law.

Yet that’s not the whole story. Yes, Congress’s intent was unusually clear with this law — to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 American elections. Yet Congress wrote into the law a provision granting the president discretion in its enforcement. The president may waive sanctions if he determines that it is in the United States’ national security interests to do so. And, indeed, the State Department offered such a justification yesterday.

So Trump isn’t breaking the law by declining to enforce sanctions against Russia. He’s within his rights to do so. But this raises a further question: Can we be in a constitutional crisis even if no one has broken the law?

The answer is almost certainly Read More Here