House Republicans this week joined with the chamber’s Democratic majority to pass Russia legislation that highlights the bad joke Congress has become.
When not calling for a pointless investigation that will enable them to preen in opposition to Vladimir Putin – something Democrats never cared to do prior to Hillary Clinton’s loss and Republicans have done less since Donald Trump’s win – the proposed legislation does what Congress has become best at: delegating its authority to the president, so it can later complain about how he uses it.
The Washington Examiner reports that the bipartisan “Vladimir Putin Transparency Act” passed on Tuesday “would require the Trump administration to investigate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wealth.”
It wouldn’t really.
In our system, investigation and prosecution are functions of executive discretion and judicial due process. This is why, to take the most notable examples, the Constitution prohibits bills of attainder (which single out a person for punishment without trial) and ex post facto laws (which criminalize conduct that was legal when committed).
The framers wanted Congress to write the laws but stay out of the enforcement business – the two tasks in one set of hands being, notoriously, a recipe for tyranny. While Congress may urge the executive to conduct an investigation, it has no constitutional authority to direct that this be done.