It appears President Donald Trump is suddenly fond of a new phrase: “Presidential Harassment.”
Thursday morning began with tweets on the topic. First, Trump targeted House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-California, who announced Wednesday that the committee would investigate alleged financial crimes involving Trump’s businesses. The message accused Schiff of “Unprecedented Presidential Harassment,” which had “never happened before.”
Trump returned to Twitter less than two hours later and repeated the mantra: “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT! It should never be allowed to happen again!”
Trump’s tone implies wrongdoing, but what he calls “presidential harassment” is known to most as “congressional oversight,” an integral part of the United States’ system of checks and balances.
Though Trump recently took to the turn of phrase, Thursday was not the first time he used it.
“Presidential Harassment” has come up on a handful of occasions, mostly when Trump is searching for someone to blame:
According to Trump, in November, it was “the prospect of Presidential Harassment” by Democrats that caused stock market volatility.
In early December, “Presidential Harassment” — also known as the “phony Russia Witch Hunt” — caused his plummeting approval rating.
After Republicans lost control of the House during November’s midterm elections, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cautioned Democrats against “presidential harassment.”
As The Washington Post’s Gabriel Pogrund reported: McConnell warned that “efforts to obtain President Trump’s tax returns and conduct oversight of his administration would backfire politically.”
“The whole issue of presidential harassment is interesting,” he told reporters. “The Democrats in the House are going to have to decide just how much presidential harassment they think is good strategy. I’m not so sure it will work for them.”
Democrats formally took control of the House on Jan. 3, and vowed to aggressively pursue oversight investigations, which may include issuing subpoenas for potentially damaging documents and advancing the Russia investigation.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made clear that she is prepared to respect, even defend, the rule of law. Democrats, she said, have a responsibility for oversight as part of the nation’s system of checks and balances.
Legally, “harassment” is a term used in civil lawsuits alleging workplace discrimination. Criminal “harassment,” which differs from state to state, typically involves behavior intended to alarm, annoy or terrorize another, often causing that person to reasonably fear for his or her safety.
Congressional oversight fits neither definition.
Trump may not enjoy the oversight process. He may fear the information congressional committees may unearth. But Congress is supposed to bird-dog the executive branch of government.
As House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, said on Wednesday, “To say that we can’t do [oversight] is to say that we shouldn’t do our constitutional duty. It’s to assert an executive preeminence that one would think he might want to be a dictator.”
Deanna Paul covers national and breaking news for The Washington Post. Before joining The Post, she spent six years as a New York City prosecutor.