Robert Meeropol

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"Robby & Elli" 1968

Robby speaking at the re-launch of the Mary Pitawanakwat Fund in Toronto

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Impeachable Offense?

April 26, 2017

Tags: Sanctuary Cities

Last night I learned that a Federal Judge in San Francisco had declared unconstitutional Trump’s Executive Order withholding federal funds from “Sanctuary Cities.” The Judge declared that once Congress appropriates funds it is unconstitutional for the Chief Executive to sit on the money. In other words, the Executive Branch was encroaching upon Legislative Branch prerogatives in violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers. (Trump’s excoriation of the Judge’s decision was an attempt to bully the Judiciary, the third branch of government, into acquiescence. Apparently, if Trump had his way there would only be one branch - his own).

The Judge’s decision sparked a memory. At the height of the Watergate scandal in the spring of 1974 Congress drew up Articles of Impeachment against then President Richard Nixon. Many remember the Watergate burglary and the subsequent coverup that generated the impeachable offenses the media reported, but few recall that there were also several, more esoteric, Articles of Impeachment. One of these was Nixon’s refusal to spend money appropriated by Congress for programs he did not approve of.

Few care about this historical footnote, but I remember it because it touched me. At the time, I was teaching undergraduate anthropology courses at a local college while awaiting funding from The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) for a pre-doctoral dissertation grant to fund urban anthropology field work. I had joined the Chamber of Commerce and was studying businessmen’s decision making networks and how they effected public policy in a small New England City. I discontinued this work when I received notice that my application had been denied.

That ended my academic career. Within months my brother and I started a public campaign to reopen our parents’ case, and I never turned back. In the meantime, Nixon resigned to avoid inevitable impeachment. President Ford, who succeeded him, dispersed the funds.

I received a letter in the spring of 1976, that funding was now available and my grant had been approved. They hadn't told me that my paltry request for $11,000 (we lived cheaply in those days) was among $500,000 in NIMH funds that Nixon had refused to spend.

It wasn’t easy to turn down $11,000 at that stage of my life, but as I put it “my cover had been blown.” How could I pose as an apolitical, business-oriented person when the local news media had let everyone in the area know I was the son of notorious communist spies who was trying to clear their names. I may be one of the only pre-doctoral students to ever turn down a NIMH PhD grant, and as a result, that obscure article of impeachment is etched in my brain.

Trump’s Executive Order attempted to do what Nixon had done. Congress, in 1974, felt what Nixon had done was an impeachable offense. I doubt this Congress will reach the same conclusion.

PS We are moving at the end of June to a neighboring community. It is a big job and I will post blogs infrequently during this period.

Selected Works

"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
Publisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
–Joyce Carol Oates

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