Imagine an organized crime boss telling members of his mob to defy congressional subpoenas
Imagine if the head of an organized crime syndicate, through his own actions and that of his top lieutenants, was credibly suspected of organizing and fomenting an insurrection for the purposes of toppling the U.S. government and illegally installing himself as its leader. Imagine that the riot and destructive mayhem that followed caused injuries to about 140 police officers, including one killed after being attacked by the rioters at the scene, and four more who committed suicide in the months thereafter. Imagine that this thwarted uprising caused over $30 million in property damage, and American citizens were stuck with the costs.
Imagine that preliminary investigations had already shown an indisputable connection between that crime boss, his associates, and those events. Imagine that a congressional committee charged with uncovering the facts and bringing the perpetrators to justice sent out subpoenas compelling those associates to testify. Then picture to yourself that same crime boss, home safe in his headquarters and actually raising money off the riot itself, blithely thumbing his nose at those subpoenas and telling his associates they needn’t pay attention to them: In fact, directly ordering them not to respond.
What do you think that congressional committee would do in that circumstance?
We are long past the point where any further tolerance of this criminal cabal simply smacks of mere appeasement and weakness. We are long past the point where we can indulge in handwringing and expressions of outrage and dismay.
No, we are at the point where any further forbearance for or patience with this criminal and his insouciant behavior will constitute a wholesale, fatal abandonment and abdication of power by an entire branch of our government. Where such an abdication would prove deadly to our Republic because it would poison forever American citizens’ regard for the rule of law, cementing a cynical contempt already held in this country (with good reason) toward any pretense of holding those in power accountable for their actions.
Greg Sargent, writing for the Washington Post, explains precisely what the Select Committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6 attacks is having to put up with right now from Donald Trump’s “associates:”
Trump has instructed several of his top advisers to defy subpoenas from the House select committee examining the insurrection. A letter from his lawyer declares that Trump-related information sought by the committee is shielded “from disclosure by the executive and other privileges.”
On Friday, we will likely learn that the Trump advisers — which include Stephen K. Bannon, Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino — will largely not comply. The committee has subpoenaed them related to communications with Trump about Jan. 6 and knowledge of Trumpworld’s scheming to subvert the count of presidential electors in Congress.
Bannon has already declared he will not abide by the subpoena. The others will almost certainly follow suit. Their objections are cloaked in specious arguments about “executive privilege,” which most legal scholars agree doesn’t exist for Mr. Trump in his status as a former chief executive. Their opposition to the subpoenas, while telling in and of itself, is also meant to signal that Trump and his cronies will give no ground and will fight tooth and nail before being compelled to be put under oath.
That is all predictable, as predictable as any criminal defendant entering a “not guilty” plea. Of course, they’re not going to comply unless they are forced to. As Norman Eisen and Frank Sparks, writing for CNN, point out, “The Trump allies are potentially eying the Congressional clock and contemplating running it out until January 2023 when a new Congress of unknown majority takes office.”
So the question now becomes how much power is vested in a democratically controlled Congress to force their compliance? Turns out, quite a bit. As Tom Hamburger, also of the Washington Post, reports, the Select Committee is already signaling it will use all the tools available to enforce its congressional mandate to get at the truth:
“This is a matter of the utmost seriousness, and we need to consider the full panoply of enforcement sanctions available to us,” said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional law professor who sits on the select committee. “And that means criminal contempt citations, civil contempt citations and the use of Congress’s own inherent contempt powers.”
We can fairly anticipate that all of these measures will be stiffly resisted by Trump and his cronies. Their lawyers will pull every trick in the book to run out the clock, in anticipation of a corrupt and complicit Republican Congress taking over in Jan. 2023, effectively killing the entire investigation. They will also be aided by shopping for corrupt federal judges to make these decisions, a process those on the right are intimately familiar with.
The gravity of the offense here demands that Congress (and the Justice Department, for that matter) exercise all the powers available to it. Not just some of those powers—all of them. If they don’t act here, and act with merciless dispatch, there will never in any imaginable reality be another opportunity. The Republicans—most of them, anyway—have shown they have no interest in the rule of law when it is applied to one of their own. It’s up to the Democrats (and those few Republicans who have joined with them in this investigation) to wield those powers they have available while they still can. If they don’t do that, they will have no excuses to fall back on under these circumstances. A Congress made up of far different Republicans than we see today joined with Democrats to push Richard Nixon out of office. But the actions of the Nixon gang that we have ever since called “Watergate” were a walk in the park compared to the gravity of crimes we have seen unfolding with these people.
So it’s long past time that we, as Josh Marshall so eloquently puts it, “Treat Trump like the Common Perp He Is.” Because if investigation and accountability cannot be prosecuted against those who would attempt to perpetrate an illegitimate overthrow of our government, then there is no point investing Congress with such oversight powers in the first place, and it’s nothing but a toothless body. If our judicial system has grown so corrupt that it will not allow such an investigation to go forward, Americans need to know that to stop putting their misplaced faith in such a judiciary. And suppose this criminal and his henchmen are ultimately permitted to skate away under the auspices of a corrupt Republican party. In that case, that will be the final proverbial nail in the American experiment. Because it will be clearly and finally demonstrated to all Americans that breaking the law doesn’t matter, that nothing and no one in power will be held accountable, even for the gravest of crimes.
And then this country will slowly, painfully dissolve under the weight of its own stale and hapless pretensions.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.