What Happens When Politicians Break Their Oath of Office?

Every elected official, service member, and many public employees take an oath of office that includes a sworn promise to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. In the case of the president, that oath reads: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” But now, as the seemingly endless corruption of the former president is revealed, one might credibly ask who enforces oaths of office — and what happens to those who break their oath?

Our democracy has been put through the wringer for the last four years as our nation’s highest elected official degraded, abused and violated our Constitution’s guarantees of freedoms and rights at every turn.

For those who might doubt that, a quick review of the latest news should put any questions to rest. Despite the First Amendment right to “freedom of the press,” the “former guy” not only refused to let taxpayer-funded public officials talk to the press, he turned loose the Department of Justice and FBI to track down reporters’ phone calls. That he particularly concentrated on those whose articles he didn’t like because they were “bad press,” further exacerbates the violation of his oath of office. Good press or bad press, freedom of the press is inviolable and a cornerstone foundation of our nation.

Equally abhorrent was turning his corrupt attorneys general loose on members of Congress who were critical of the president. As reported by the Washington Post late last week: “The Justice Department in 2018 secretly subpoenaed Apple for the data of two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, as well as the data of their current and former staffers and family members, in an aggressive push by the Trump administration to determine who was leaking classified information to the news media, according to a committee official and one of the affected lawmakers.” That the probe was turned only on two Democrats can only be construed for what it was—a flagrant abuse of power by the executive branch. It was done in secret because the perpetrators knew a vast and justified condemnation would arise if it was publicly revealed.

And of course there’s the Jan. 6 insurrection, a blatant attempt by the former president to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power upon which the nation has relied—and is constitutionally mandated—for its entire history. Caught up in the post-insurrection dragnet, those who stormed the Capitol to try to halt the certification of the legitimate election results are now willing to admit they attacked Congress because “the president of the United States called us to Washington, D.C.”

While the abuses of the past president are legion—and obvious violations of his oath of office—they raise the issue closer to home. Montana’s Constitution specifically requires that “the state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment for present and future generations.” Yet, Governor Gianforte just unilaterally decided to double the logging on state lands without a shred of scientific proof that it is sustainable. He also signed into law a measure to lower Montana’s water quality standards. Neither action “defends” Montana’s Constitution, nor “maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment.”

Only months into his term, the governor seems to already be abandoning his oath of office and our constitutional guarantees of a clean and healthful environment. The question is: “Who, if anyone, will hold him to his oath?”

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Daily Montanan, where this essay originally appeared.