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The Checks That Congress Still Has On The Executive Branch

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Since President Trump was acquitted by the Senate, he has not held back. Today he pardoned a handful of politically connected men, even commuted the sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

He has also had key witnesses in the impeachment trial ousted from their jobs, and he's weighed in on the ongoing criminal case of longtime ally Roger Stone. Attorney General William Barr reduced the recommended sentence, leaving career prosecutors to quit the case but earning praise from President Trump.

ZOE LOFGREN: He appears to be engaging in even more corruption and apparently feels that his corruption has now been given the green light.

KELLY: That is Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. She's a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. She was one of the House impeachment managers. So in a post-impeachment era, I asked Lofgren, what levers are congressional Democrats willing to use to check the president?

LOFGREN: Well, we use the biggest lever we had already, which is the impeachment clause of the Constitution. And the only other levers that we really have is oversight to try and shine a light on what he is doing, holding hearings, calling witnesses, finding facts so that people can see what's going on.

KELLY: Although the pattern we saw emerge in the impeachment inquiry was - you in Congress can call witnesses. The White House can block them.

LOFGREN: That is correct. And so far, the attorney general has agreed to come into the Judiciary Committee at the end of March. But there are other activities. I am concerned about the pattern of pardoning. He has pardoned today several people who were involved in political corruption. Is that a prelude to kind of soften up for pardoning people that he's been corrupt with? That's a concern. We'll see what he does next.

KELLY: Who are you hinting at there - Roger Stone, Mike Flynn?

LOFGREN: Correct - could be both of them.

KELLY: Would that be a red line, and what could the House do about it?

LOFGREN: Well, here's the problem. I mean, we live within what the Constitution provides. The House of Representatives doesn't have the authority to jail the president. We have the power to impeach him, which we did. This is not some other clause waiting out there for us to use. So at this point, it's within the hands of the American public and the election in November.

KELLY: Because it sounds, if I may, like something of an admission of defeat at the moment if - what you're telling me is the levers at Congress's disposal are subpoena power, oversight power. And yet the White House has demonstrated its willingness to defy subpoenas.

LOFGREN: We've done subpoenas. We've done impeachment. We've used all the tools in the toolbox that's been given to us by the Constitution. Regrettably, the Senate refused to play the role that it should have played under the Constitution. And so now we're left with the election coming forward and where - whether the American people wish to mobilize and take control of this situation. I hope they do because we are heading towards banana republic time.

KELLY: That's a statement I'm sure you don't make lightly.

LOFGREN: I do not. I think says a lot that thousands of former federal prosecutors are asking the attorney general to resign. You know, when you have a situation where the president can direct prosecution and sentencing of his cronies who were involved in political schemes with him, you don't have a rule of law society. So something needs to be done about this, and what we know now is that has to be done by the American people in November.

KELLY: Congresswoman, thanks for your time.

LOFGREN: You bet.

KELLY: That's Zoe Lofgren, Democratic congresswoman from California and a member of the House Judiciary Committee who served as a House impeachment manager. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.