Friday, November 26

Jan.6 investigation faces perennial dilemma: how to hold Trump to account

(CNN) — Donald Trump always seems to get away with it. And he’s trying to do it again.

The former president and his Republican apologists in Congress are launching a new effort to cushion the consequences of his crimes against democracy, burying the truth about what can now be objectively called a coup attempt.

A series of shocking new behind-the-scenes details of Trump’s multiple attempts to steal last November’s election are showing how dangerously close the country came to a constitutional disaster in January.

  • A new report from the Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats on Thursday found that Trump tried nine times to get his Justice Department to undermine the election.
  • The report also details a three-hour extraordinary meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump tried to win support for a plan to install a loyalist, Jeffrey Clark, as acting attorney general, who he thought would help him overturn the 2020 election. In the end, the former president was persuaded not to carry out the move after being told it would lead to massive resignations at the Justice Department.
  • Trump indicated that he will try to assert executive privilege to prevent the select committee of the House of Representatives investigating the attack of his mob of supporters on the United States Capitol from obtaining information from certain witnesses.
  • That panel sent two new subpoenas to two members of the group “Stop the Steal” (“Stop the robbery”), Ali Alexander and Nathan Martin, who were affiliated with the planning of the demonstration in Washington that preceded the insurrection.

This one-day spate of news raises profound questions for Congress, the Biden administration, and potentially the courts, and follows other new evidence of Trump’s undemocratic conduct, including a step-by-step plan by a conservative attorney for how. then-Vice President Mike Pence could subvert the constitutional process of certifying Biden’s electoral victory.

A key issue concerns how far the select commission and the Justice Department are willing to go to hold those involved, including the former president, accountable.

Does the panel have the power and strength to do it quickly, to prevent Trump from running out of time for what could be a docile Republican Congress after next fall’s midterm elections? Would, for example, President Joe Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland be ready to enforce congressional contempt referrals and carry the weight of the law against Trump allies who refuse to cooperate with the commission? It is not yet clear what response, if any, his allies who were summoned gave.

Ultimately, the question is whether there is any legal or political remedy equivalent to the scale of Trump’s transgressions or, perhaps more importantly, that can deter his relentless attempts to destroy the legitimacy and faith of his successor in an electoral system. It reflects the will of a nation that wanted him to leave the Oval Office.

Some might argue that two unprecedented impeachments represent the ultimate sanction and the historic stain. But Trump’s acquittal by Republicans in his first Senate trial only convinced him that he could abuse power with impunity. And his second acquittal, once he left office, did nothing to temper his corrosive claims of election fraud, and is not an impediment as he builds an apparent new presidential campaign on the lie that the last elections were corrupt.

Why Trump must be held accountable

Accountability is critical for multiple reasons. The Capitol uprising and Trump’s multiple attempts to subvert the elections, in Washington and at home, rank as the worst assault on the American electoral system in history. Imposing a price for such behavior is vital to preventing such abuses from happening again, and could potentially include new laws to bolster faith in elections. Recent escalations in Trump’s attacks on core democratic values ​​and signs that he is planning a new run for the White House demonstrate that his threat to democratic governance is far from over and is getting worse.

The role of the January 6 commission is important in establishing a historical and contemporary record of what happened that day and Trump’s guilt amid the efforts of his media propagandists and political allies to whitewash the truth and downplay a scandalous assault on the epicenter of American democracy.

An immediate question for the select committee will be how to counter any refusal to cooperate from Trump allies who received subpoenas, including former adviser Steve Bannon, former chief of staff Mark Meadows and former defense official Kash Patel. The commission has not been able to locate another named Trump aide, former White House undersecretary and social media guru Dan Scavino, sources familiar with the effort told CNN.

“This will be the test for this Jan. 6 commission,” Carrie Cordero, a former senior Justice Department official and CNN national security and legal analyst, said on “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

“How far are they willing to go to enforce their authority and provide the authority of Congress to conduct this investigation? Are they going to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department for contempt or even potentially obstruction?”

Trump’s decision to barricade is no surprise given the life of seeking to shirk responsibility for his actions in business and politics. He fought for months, for example, to prevent investigators investigating the Trump Organization in New York from obtaining his financial history. The company and its former CFO Allen Weisselberg have been charged with an alleged tax scheme.

Trump’s apparent justification for trying to evade accountability here is that he is trying to protect the integrity of his former position by upholding executive privilege – the ability of presidents to obtain confidential advice from their subordinates. This is a predictable but hardly credible defense, at least outside the purview of a narrow legal argument.

After all, Trump spent four years destroying the standards and codes of conduct implicit in his office and gave no indication that he was concerned about preserving his model of righteousness for future generations. And in this case, he appears to be seeking to assert the privilege of covering up what multiple testimonies and reports suggest is an attempt to mount a coup.

“Executive privilege will be defended, not only on behalf of President Trump and his administration, but also on behalf of the Office of the President of the United States and the future of our nation,” said Taylor Budowich, communications director for Save America and Trump. , it’s a statement.

Trump may try to defend his claims of executive privilege in court, in an attempt to further extend the affairs of the commission. But the Biden White House, the current guardian of executive privilege, might take a relaxed view of requests for documents in this area.

A source familiar with the former president’s legal strategy confirmed to CNN that an attorney for Trump sent letters to some of the targets of the subpoena, informing them of his plan to defend executive privilege. The letters were first reported by Politico. While the letter instructed the targets of the subpoena not to comply with Congressional investigators, according to The Washington Post, who reviewed it, it is up to each witness to decide whether to follow Trump’s direction.

Republicans again excuse Trump’s abuses of power

At the same time that Trump was trying to escape accountability, the Republican response to Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee report by a majority of Democrats again highlighted a trend that has allowed Trump’s past abuses of power and that ensures that he remains a viable political figure. In a mourning document, the Republicans on the commission presented a different interpretation of the facts contained in the majority report.

His action was consistent with a party that blocked an independent 9/11-style commission in the January 6 insurrection under Trump, and that has always prioritized its political priorities and the need to appeal to the former president’s supporters over their duty of democracy.

The Republican document essentially argued that since Trump was prevented by advisers from carrying out many of his schemes to subvert democracy and steal power, there is no case for him to respond. For example, the then president did not actually carry out his plan to replace Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with Clark, although not out of wanting to try.

“The president rejected it. The president did the right thing,” said Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Commission.

The argument that Trump’s nefarious plots failed to free him from liability is well known. Republicans used it to excuse their abuses of power during their first impeachment trial, arguing that Trump’s plan to withhold military aid to Ukraine in exchange for the announcement of a criminal investigation into Biden did not actually come to fruition. Basically, this boils down to the case that a president who seeks to thwart the Constitution is only guilty if he is successful. This rules out, for example, hard evidence that Trump repeatedly pressured Justice Department officials and in states like Georgia to overturn the election – a clear and staggering abuse of power.

The courage and integrity of these officials was ultimately all that stood between the United States and a lost democracy. But the fact that it is almost lost this time should not mean that officials subordinate to a president should be exposed to such pressure in the future.

The threat has not passed. Trump eagerly backs candidates for secretary of state positions in the electoral battleground states of Georgia, Michigan and Arizona who have supported his electoral lies. If elected, those officials could be hugely influential in the 2024 election in which Trump could be a candidate amid mounting fears that any Republican effort to take power illegitimately the next time around could work.

All of this, and Trump’s refusal to give in to the reality of his electoral defeat and his ever-increasing efforts to chart a potentially fraudulent path back to power, help explain why the work of the select commission is so crucial.

Katelyn Polantz, Evan Perez, Ryan Nobles, Pauk LeBlanc, Zachary Cohen, and Annie Grayer contributed to this report.

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