The New Iron Triangle

By Robert B. Charles –

Today, we face a strange, new “iron triangle,” one that our Founders may not have foreseen — but one that we must understand — and break by voting in November.  The carefully designed “checks and balances” bequeathed to us by those who wrote the U.S. Constitution are stuck on this triangle.

The U.S. Constitution created co-equal “branches” of government.  We all know them, the Executive, Legislative and Judicial.  The Founders strived to put in place “checks and balances,” imagining their constitutional construct would stand the test of time.  They sought to anticipate all possibilities, and discussed them in The Federalist Papers.  To their eternal credit, these efforts have guarded our God-given liberties for more than 225 years.  Today, however, we confront a new configuration of leaders and behaviors, some of which may go beyond what the Founders foresaw.  The new burden is on us.

Before reviewing facts, here is a refresher on “checks and balances” — how they work to assure accountability.  Article II, Section 2, gives the president the power to “appoint … officers of the United States.”  In the event that a sitting Attorney General fails to perform his constitutional duties in ways that lack transparency, truthfulness, integrity or conformity with prevailing laws, the Constitution provides a President with full power to remove him.  Likewise, a sitting President must abide the law.  Since we expect the Attorney General to uphold his Oath, if a president’s truthfulness comes into question on issues of national security or domestic law; if there are questions about his abuse of office for political purposes, the Attorney General is expected to investigate.  Assuring checks and balances – until 1999 – we also had an Independent Counsel Act.  That act allowed appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate high-ranking officials, beyond politics. 

How else can we keep a President or Attorney General accountable?  Under Article II, Section 4, if an offense by a cabinet member or president is grave enough, the offending official can “be removed from office on impeachment” by Congress.  That procedure requires the U.S. House to vote articles, and a trial convened in the U.S. Senate.  Of course, short of impeachment, the accused official could resign.  President Nixon took that route.  To secure impeachment, the Senate Majority Leader must take that issue to the Senate floor for trial and vote.  

So, here is the way it is supposed to work:  These “checks and balances” keep an errant Attorney General “checked” by the President and Congress – assuming the Senate Majority Leader will convene an impeachment vote, if needed.   The President is “checked” by an honest Attorney General, sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution and honest Senate Majority Leader.  Finally, an errant Senate Majority leader – or any member of Congress – is “checked” by an Attorney General who, if he suspects criminality, investigates and prosecutes.

So, what is all this “iron triangle” business?   Consider the current twist of history, one in which we are all stuck.  What if the Senate Majority Leader acts contrary to law and the Attorney General refuses to investigate him, recognizing that this could open a counter-measure, namely impeachment?  What if that same Attorney General’s actions warrant impeachment, but the Senate Majority Leader refuses to act – since this could place him in jeopardy of investigation?  What if a President — who hires and fires Attorney Generals – is suspected of abuse, for example: persecuting opponents through the Internal Revenue Service, suppressing material facts on national security (such as Benghazi and information collection), or clamping down unconstitutionally on individual liberties – but the Attorney General allows such abuses to slide, protecting his own job?  You have an “iron triangle” of unaccountability.

What would the Founders say about the possibility of “criminal equipoise” among top government actors?  They would be dismayed.  What would the Founders say about an Attorney General who takes no action against a Majority Leader allegedly giving $16,000 dollars in campaign money to a relative, and then separately taking campaign money from companies under criminal investigation?  Instead of following facts, this Attorney General halted FBI involvement in the investigation of the Majority Leader.  Why?

What would the Founders say about a Majority Leader who telegraphs that he will take no action against that same Attorney General for activities that should put impeachment in play?  What would the Founders say about a President who feels no constitutional burden to inquire further into these actions – and, coincidentally, has a number of potential abuses of his own to explain?  They would recognize the “iron triangle” of unaccountability – an unbreakable and indefensible chess move, clever and illegitimate – and they would be chagrined.  

The U.S. Constitution – and Founders who designed it – assumed a modicum of integrity and commitment to the Constitutional Oath they insisted high officers swear.  They assumed a degree of honor.  The President and Attorney General take an Oath to uphold the Constitution in Article II, Section 1, the Majority Leader from Article VI, Section 3.  Yet today, the very officials meant to check each other appear to be covering for each other.

So, what is the answer?  The only answer is, for better and worse, found in the U.S. Constitution.  The U.S. House of Representatives can – with reluctance– commence impeachment proceedings against the U.S. Attorney General, pressuring the Senate to step forward.  The U.S. Attorney General could reopen FBI involvement in the case involving the Majority Leader, perhaps also accommodating concerns of Congress which produced the contempt vote against him.  The President could suggest that the Attorney General step down, encouraging a new Attorney General to allow FBI participation in the Majority Leader’s case. 

Probably, however, the only way “We the People” will restore accountability is at the ballot box.  Thus, we must resolve to vote out this Senate leadership, and vote in a new U.S. Senate, one that cares about fidelity to law and the U.S. Constitution.  This November, we will have that chance – and we must not forget.  This is not the end of wisdom, nor the beginning – but perhaps, borrowing from Churchill, the end of the beginning.  Our Founders expected one other thing – they expected us to care, even so many years later, and to help them get it right.  

First published in The American Thinker on April 17, 2014

Robert Charles is a former U.S. Court of Appeals clerk, civil litigator and counsel to a congressional oversight committee, who taught Government Oversight at the Harvard Extension School, and now leads a Washington DC consulting group.

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Veatrice Bennett
6 years ago

I do not think that President Obama is a United States citizen; I think that he was born in Kenya.

Veatrice Bennett
6 years ago

I do not think President Obama is a United States citizen; I think that he was born in Kenya.

6 years ago

His article is accurate, and I wanted to add a comment from a friend who read it:

“He could add a fourth side – the press who keep the public mollified towards these miscreants”.

Angela M. Rosati
6 years ago

“They assumed a degree of Honor.” Nobody has honor anymore. Nobody has respect anymore. But, HONOR…..that’s the most sacred.

6 years ago

I think the only way to stop Government abuse of it’s citizens is to cut of the flow of taxes to them.

6 years ago

A new broom sweeps clean ! It looks like that is the answer ! We have to have a GI PARTY ! For those that never heard of this expression, allow me to explain! When I enlisted into the US Air Force back in 1947, upon entering Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base and assigned to our Barracks. We were told we were going to have a GI Party. This consisted of Buckets of Water and those Brick sized bars of GI Soap, Mopes and etc. We then proceded to scrub and wash down everything before our eyes inside… Read more »

Charles Williams
6 years ago

Lawyer as a whole have become a despicable lot.

6 years ago

Democrat leaders Ignore the Constitution. They only care about Increasing their Tyranny. And media & culture & indoctrinated voters help them do just that! ;-(

Ron Howard
6 years ago

One of the biggest problems to overcome is to get liberal Democrats to hear or read other sides of an issue. They listen to their Dictator King Obama and will only hear what he says. They refuse to listen to any other side of any issue. You cannot discuss anything with them unless it is the side they want to hear. You cannot hope to change someone’s mind on an issue if they refuse to hear you. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

gray jones
6 years ago

Interesting. IMHO, for what it’s worth: Power, true power, is parity between force and wisdom. The Constitution personifies POWER. Communism’s use of its force to wipe out wisdom, a main factor for its failure, personifies STUPIDITY. Obama and Liberals are doomed!…Semper Fi Nam 66-67

6 years ago

Great article for those of us who believe in the Constitution, or those who care about our Republic.. The country is so divided and getting worse each day. The left wants to destroy capitalism, and turn us into a socialist country!!!! and they are getting their way.. We have seen no accountability what so ever. they do whatever they want, and get their way.. BO has stacked the deck, the administration is so corrupt for those who have half a mind and an IQ of 10 to see, but 50% of voters either have no interest of what we have,… Read more »

Jeff & Ann Krumrich
6 years ago

We need to put out a simple one minute commercial explaining the IRON Triangle.

6 years ago

John Roberts voted to uphold Obamacare.

It is not a triangle, but a square that borders our Constitution.

Only a new political party can make an impact to salvage at least some of our guaranteed rights.

The obvious road that both current political parties are going down is designed to create kings and kingdoms and leave the rest of us in a state of servitude to their every whim and fancy.

6 years ago

Two things my father talked about.
1. too many lawyers in politics and life general.
2. someday the populace will revolt against government greed, i.e.., high taxes, fraud and waste.

We need term limits!

Rick Barnard
6 years ago

How can we expect anything but GROWING TYRANNY when we elect people who reject the Liviing God (the God who enabled our ancestors to set up constitutional government, win the war for independence; then go on to prosper as the greatest power on earth–the only hope for liberty in the world)?. When the establishment gets their way, there will be a one world government, a dictor over it all, and all those deemed surplus population will be enslaved & eventually exterminated . If our people would turn from their sins, seek the God of the bible, ask him to be… Read more »

6 years ago

Key to the entire issue: “The U.S. Constitution – and Founders who designed it – assumed a modicum of integrity and commitment to the Constitutional Oath they insisted high officers swear. They assumed a degree of honor.” Integrity? Honor? These are difficult to identify during a campaign which often is a combination of a sales pitch and a beauty contest. It’s very hard (sometimes impossible) to really know if a candidate possesses these traits at all, and especially in sufficient quantity do the right thing for the country even if it means being a one-term congressperson. The 2014 and 2016… Read more »

6 years ago

The TIRP (Totally Inept Republican Party) will blow this one in 2016. Hillary (already elected by the news media) will finish the job.

6 years ago

Mr. Obama, Mr. Reid, Mr. Holder, Mrs. Pelosi and many more politicians have a stronger connection to their political party than they do to the country. These folks use the power of the Federal Government to loot the taxpayer. This will not end well.

Joseph McHugh
6 years ago

Robert Charles posited fear of retaliation in kind if the President, Attorney General or the Senate Majority Leader moved to start an investigation on the behavior of either of the others. This is NOT the reason that these three people have failed to keep the faith with the people. Collusion, not fear, is the reason that obama, holder and reid disgrace themselves in this matter. All three men are motivated by their own unworthy desires. reid supports the other two men out of a sense of greed. He simply wants to accumulate as much of the taxpayer’s money as he… Read more »

6 years ago

Apparently, the nature of man includes the rise of organized, criminal activity. Gangsters. Gangsters have been around in the U.S. in many ways for a long time. An integral aspect of “gangsterism” is heavy involvement in politics and law. This is historical fact. Harry Reid, Eric Holder, and the President, by definition, are gangsters.

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