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Yesterday Was a Good Day for the Rule of Law– But Dems Need to Keep Their Eye on the Ball

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I take comfort in the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee staying on course by issuing a contempt citation against AG Barr.

And I am particularly encouraged by the strength and resolution being shown by the Committee’s Chair, Jerry Nadler. Nadler framed the issue quite accurately and powerfully when he said,

“Now is the time of testing whether we can keep a republic, or whether this republic is destined to change into a different, more tyrannical form of government, as other republics have over the centuries.”

 

Some concerns remain.

On TV last night, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee took the conversation in what I think was a strategically mistaken direction when she emphasized how Trump is stonewalling Congress even on issues like the Puerto Rico hurricane disaster and like the separation of families at the border.

I think it mistaken because it frames things such that if Trump relented on those OTHER “Oversight” areas, it could take the pressure off the main event, where it is essential things keep moving forward. And the main event is whether the President can place himself above the law. I.e., the issue that Nadler raised about losing our republic to tyranny.

The Democrats need to keep the focus on fundamental question, on what the Mueller Report sows that’s relevant to the question, on the role the Constitution gives the Congress to make sure that when that question arises– as now — it does not get answered by America falling under tyranny.

It’s not about Oversight in general.

The combat with AG Barr needs to be framed in the right terms.

  • Only Congress has the power to hold a President accountable for crimes. So it is to Congress that the evidence must be presented.
  • If it would have been OK for the Attorney General to exercise control over the Special Counsel’s investigation, there would be no need for a Special Counsel. The investigation could have been handled like every other Justice Department investigation– being altogether subservient to the Attorney General.
  • But it involves the President, which is why we have a Special Counsel– and so the matter needs to be taken out of the executive branch altogether and handed to Congress. It is Congress to whom the Special Counsel should be presenting the evidence, so that it can exercise its important role when it comes to the question of presidential wrong-doing.
  • Thus Barr’s keeping things from Congress defeats the whole purpose of having a Special Counsel.
  • Barr’s standing in the way of Mueller’s Report speaking to Congress is therefore a frontal assault on the rule of law, a brazen act of obstruction to help the President put himself above the law.
  • And not just any “rule of law” issue, like whether Bill Clinton committed a “high crime or misdemeanor” when he obstructed justice to protect himself from having is tawdry sexual behavior made public (as the result of a campaign by his enemies to destroy his presidency). No, with Trump, we see repeated flagrant abuses of the power of the presidency for corrupt purposes.
  • With those stakes, it is clearly appropriate for the Democrats’ to be mentioning the word “impeachment” with increasing frequency. For impeachment is the logical place to which things should go if there’s Presidential wrong-doing that is serious enough to threaten what our founders put in the impeachment clause in order to protect.
  • And it is crystal clear that Trump’s conduct is as threatening to the constitutional order as one could imagine— for he shows virtually no respect for that order.  Contempt for the rule of law and the Constitution—  shown not only by the Mueller Report, but in other ways as well– as with his unconstitutional usurpations of power in grabbing money for the wall (disrespecting Congress’s role), like imposing tariffs in a way that violates the proper authority of Congress, like the emoluments clause.)
  • With those stakes, it is clearly appropriate for the Democrats’ to be mentioning the word “impeachment” with increasing frequency– as the Trump obstructionism is not just in the Mueller Report — for which Don McGahn should now be testifying — but is being enacted right now by the Trump-Barr organized crime family as the obstruction of justice — the campaign to place the president above the law — continues right now daily right before our eyes.
  • If this isn’t impeachable, it’s hard to imagine what would be, since the stakes here are really whether Trump will get away with making us a good deal more like those dictatorships Trump seems to admire (like Putin’s) and which he seems to emulate in ways we’ve never seen in an American president.
  • So we must use all that to illuminate what Nadler said was at issue: do we preserve our Republic or to we slide toward tyranny.

The task is to help the public to assess the Presidential wrong-doing with appropriate understanding, by those means, get a national consensus to act in whatever way the evidence suggests is called for, which is really quite clear.

The Democrats should make maximal use of the extraordinary document that has been handed to them to deliver the message that Barr tried to obfuscate (with some success) and that Trump is trying to gag with his defiance of all subpoenas.

The Democrats should be trumpeting repeatedly a letter that has gathered more than 800 signatures from former U.S. Attorneys and Justice Department officials — Republican and Democratic, across several decades, a historically most remarkable document — affirm in their letter:

That even the redacted version of the Mueller Report shows clear evidence that the President is guilty of multiple felonies, and it wouldn’t even be a close call about whether he would be indicted for what he did— if anyone but Congress has the authority to indict him.  

Trump should be indicted, they are saying. And they understand full well that with a “sitting President” — that means he should be “impeached.”  Only Congress can indict a President, and the indictment from Congress has a special name: “impeachment.”

So this extrarordinary group — what might be called The Voice of Integrity in the System of American Justice” — has seen fit to do something extraordinary in gathering in their many hundreds to deliver a message to the American people about the nature of their President and his wrong-doing.

What they are saying about this President, and what should be done about it, has the potential to achieve the same public education process as the hearings (which have not yet succeeded in happening): in lieu of hearings, their clear message that the President has committed multiple felonies and should be impeached.

And we can imagine how seriously they take this kind of felony— a presidential attack on the system of justice they’ve devoted their whole careers to, while taking great pride in the quality of most of the people who have led the system, and the integrity of the system itself.

But the issue of Trump’s “obstruction of justice” with multiple felonies is really part of a bigger picture, all of which show how profoundly this President threatens the constitutional order.

It’s not only to protect himself that he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors in how he’s abused the powers of the presidency— including emoluments, the assaults on the separation of powers and checks and balances (on tariffs and on bogus national emergencies).

What we see is a President who has contempt for anything that would limit his powers to do what he wants.

It doesn’t get more serious than this than to have some president that takes us to the juncture described so well by Jerry Nadler (Nadler, the Chair of the one committee in all of Congress it is to begin impeachment proceedings):

“Now is the time of testing whether we can keep a republic, or whether this republic is destined to change into a different, more tyrannical form of government, as other republics have over the centuries.”

Americans must be moved to see the perilous juncture we are at, and to care about it.

Americans must be led to see that Congress must deal with Trump through impeachment both in order to protect the well-being of Americans in the future and because they have sworn an oath, a sacred promise they are obligated to honor now, when the Constitution is indeed in need of protecting and defending.