Tag Archives: Garland

Answers to Senator Mike Lee’s 8 Stupid Questions

On August 10, U.S. Senator, and Trump sycophant, Mike Lee published an opinion piece on, where else, Fox News, entitled, Trump raid leaves me with 8 important questions as a Senate Judiciary Committee member.  I am here to help. For the record, note that Lee twice clerked for Justice Samuel Alito, who famously wrote the majority opinion imposing his religious views on the country while overturning Roe v Wade.

See also https://shiningseausa.com/2022/05/05/justice-alitos-masquerade/

After reminding us he was a federal prosecutor, Lee poses his eight questions.

  1. Did Attorney General Merrick Garland personally sign off on this action?

Answer: A modest effort by Lee would have told him the answer. It’s clear now that Garland did sign off, reflecting awareness on the part of DOJ that its investigation at Mar-a-Lago was singularly important.

  1. Why break into the safe at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home rather than seize it, take it into custody, and seek a warrant to open it?

Answer: It’s unclear why Lee cares about this, but most likely it’s just part of the “Trump as victim” narrative that Republican sycophants constantly promote to show their loyalty to Trump, as opposed, you know, to loyalty to the country they swore to protect and defend.  The warrant governing the entire search almost certainly permitted the FBI to “break into the safe” if that is in fact what they did. You would have thought that Trump, faced with the “raid,” would have just opened the safe. Maybe he did. Lee wasn’t there. Or Trump refused to open it, so he could add to his victimization ploy.

  1. Why execute a search warrant rather than seek the items through an informal process such as a subpoena?

Answer: Lee is either deliberately ignorant or just plain stupid. Trump would never have complied with a subpoena and Lee knows that. Pursuing a subpoena would just have delayed everything, alerted Trump to the target of the investigation, and likely resulted in destruction of or further secreting of the evidence. Trump refused to answer Special Counsel Mueller’s questions, has claimed that everything he did is forever protected by some form of privilege and in general declared himself immune from, and superior to, the law. If Lee has not learned any of this, his “opinion” is worth exactly nothing. He just going along to get along with the Republican narrative that the man who led the attempt to overthrow the government on January 6 did nothing wrong.

  1. If this is genuinely about presidential records, why would the former President — who was in charge of declassifying documents — be subject to prosecution for retaining custody of the same documents? It’s important to note that classification authority belongs to the president of the United States — NOT to bureaucrats at the National Archives.

Answer: Senator Lee knows a lot less about the classification of federal government documents than he would have you believe. For a short course introduction, see https://twitter.com/MarkHertling/status/1557911337468133377  If you want to look further into General Hertling’s military chops, look at this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Hertling

  1. If this is the product of the growing political weaponization of federal law enforcement agencies, shouldn’t all Americans be outraged by the Democrats’ plan to hire an additional 87,000 federal agents?

Answer: Clever but no cigar. By characterizing this as a hypothetical, Lee leaves himself room to say, “I never said there was growing weaponization, etc.” But, of course, a claim of weaponization is exactly the message he intended to deliver.

Why he thinks the increased staffing for the Internal Revenue Service (that’s the 87,000 new employees) is relevant here will remain a mystery to all rational people. But if anyone wants to know, read this: https://wapo.st/3SOxMHZ And if weaponization is the allegation, perhaps Sen. Lee should do a little reading about the Trump administration, especially the last year or so. Might start with Betrayal, The Final Act of the Trump Show, by Jonathan Karl. Or these:

The Fourth Reich — It’s Them or Us https://bit.ly/3QIoCLy

Donald Trump — A Gangster in the White House https://bit.ly/3Po4kpB

Trump’s Documents – Trump’s Crimes https://bit.ly/3zMWik4

  1. How is this aggressive action defensible in light of the FBI’s and DOJ’s treatment of Hillary Clinton, who was never subjected to such an invasive intrusion of privacy, even though she mishandled classified material and destroyed evidence?

Answer: Sen. Lee should see a doctor about his memory loss. I will not waste time with this old, very old, line of Republican deflection, except to note that Secretary Clinton did not attempt to stage a coup to prevent the lawful and peaceful transfer of power. Oh, and DOJ’s (FBI’s Comey, remember him?) treatment of Hillary Clinton was likely to ultimate cause of her loss to Trump in the 2016 election.

  1. Why should we assume that the federal bureaucracy isn’t targeting Republicans when the FBI and DOJhave taken no action regarding flagrant violations of the law by pro-abortion extremists threatening Supreme Court justices at their homes?

Answer: Prosecutorial decisions about political protests are more than a little different than investigation of known crimes involving national security. And, just for the record, AG Barr’s records of using DOJ for Trump’s personal and political benefits is undeniable. We can match the good senator deflection for deflection, but it’s pointless. Trump removed documents from the White House that he knew had the highest security classification. Why? Republicans like Lee don’t care about the national security of their country. They are only interested in being seen by Trump as 100% loyal to him, just in case, you know, he becomes president again.

8. Did FBI Director Christopher Wray intentionally wait to carry out the raid until after his oversight hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee last week? I asked him whether he was concerned with warrantless “backdoor searches” under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He seemed unperturbed.

Answer: What if he did? Lee is a US Senator and can ask the FBI questions until he is blue (or is it red?) in the face.

Lee’s rant ends with his false hope that the FBI has been appropriately careful in handling the decision to raid Trump’s “home:”

If there’s something we don’t know, something that will clarify the reasons for the raid, then the FBI needs to articulate that justification soon as possible. If there isn’t, we’ve got problems at the FBI.

In this statement, Lee reveals his ignorance of how DOJ/FBI works OR, more likely, is just playing to the victimization/fears of the Trump base that somehow the federal government is out to get them. Senator Lee and most other people are not entitled to know every detail of criminal investigations, regardless of the target. Lee seems to forget, as he has forgotten his oath of office, that Trump is subject to the law the same as everyone else. The investigation of Trump is based on well-founded concerns of criminal behavior in a vast range precisely because, not instead of, his having been president. The reason is simple enough: if the president can commit crimes and not be called to account, the Constitution is meaningless and, as Benjamin Franklin feared, the republic is lost.

Prosecution of Donald Trump

People in media and elsewhere are falling all over themselves to influence the public’s understanding of Donald Trump’s guilt for multiple crimes while in office and thereafter. The nature of these “explanations” for the “difficulties” of convicting Trump have shifted somewhat. At first, there were the “defenses” suggested around whether Trump was legally responsible for inciting the January 6 attack on the Capitol. You know, the First Amendment that he was just engaged in protected “political speech.” That argument has pretty much dissolved in the face of overwhelming evidence developed by the January 6 Select Committee and other sources noting, correctly, that speech that is part of a criminal conspiracy, for example, is not protected “freedom of speech.”

We now have Republicans with credentials suggesting there are major difficulties in the path of Attorney General Garland’s struggle whether to indict the former president. In a Sunday New York Times “Guest Essay,” entitled “Prosecute Trump? Put Yourself in Merrick Garland’s Shoes,” Jack Goldsmith argues that the AG has three difficult decisions to make.

Mr. Goldsmith’s credentials are imposing. He served in the George W. Bush administration as an assistant attorney general, office of legal counsel, and as special counsel to the general counsel (??) of the Department of Defense.  He is a Harvard law professor and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution (yes, that Hoover), and a co-author of “After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency.”

To his credit, Goldsmith admits up front that Trump’s claim of election fraud was false. He also admits that, faced with multiple failures to secure his objective, Trump “riled up a mob, directed it to the Capitol and refused for a time to take steps to stop the ensuing violence.”

To mitigate this problematic situation, Goldsmith says Garland must first decide who should decide whether to indict Trump. He argues that DOJ likely has a conflict of interest because Garland’s “boss,” President Biden, is a likely opponent of Trump in the 2024 election. Thus, if another condition is met (Garland believes appointment of a special prosecutor is “in the public interest”), the AG must appoint a special counsel (another Mueller) to investigate Trump and decide the indictment issue. He goes so far as to note that “some people” believe that a quasi-independent special counsel should be a Republican (and you thought my reference to Mueller was just historical; remember who we’re talking about here).

After more back-and-forth, and like a good law professor, Goldsmith concludes this issue with the observation that “Garland could legitimately conclude that the public interest demands that the Trump matter be guided by the politically accountable person whom the Senate confirmed in 2021 by a vote of 70-30.” I think that means Garland could decide that Garland should decide.

This is where things get really hinky. The second major decision, Goldsmith says with a straight face, is whether Garland,

has adequate evidence to indict Mr. Trump… The basic question here is whether, in the words of Justice Department guidelines, Mr. Trump’s acts constitute a federal offense and “the admissible evidence will probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction.” [emphasis added]

These issues, Goldsmith says, “will be hard conclusions for Mr. Garland to reach.”

To that, I say, C’mon, man. Be serious.

Goldsmith’s argument is that the evidence developed by the January 6 Select Committee is too “one-sided” and that,

Garland must assess how any charges against Mr. Trump would fare in an adversarial criminal proceeding administered by an independent judge, where Mr. Trump’s lawyers will contest the government’s factual and legal contentions, tell his side of events, raise many defenses and appeal every important adverse legal decision to the Supreme Court.

Putting aside the position of the freshly corrupted Supreme Court (the Thomas scandal, questions about who paid Kavanagh’s debts, etc.), the rest of these issues, while certain to be raised, pose no serious threat to a well-crafted evidentiary case that overwhelmingly, just on what we now know, demonstrates Trump’s guilt on multiple federal counts. See, for example, the Brookings Institution’s report, Trump on Trial. See prior post, https://shiningseausa.com/2022/06/20/trump-crimes-report-marked-up/ And that does not include the nine remaining counts of obstruction of justice that Mueller uncovered but felt he was blocked by DOJ policy on indicting a sitting president.

Undeterred, Goldsmith suggests Trump has potential defenses in the argument that “he lacked criminal intent because he truly believed that massive voter fraud had taken place” and “his interpretations of the law, his pressure on Mr. Pence, his delay in responding to the Capitol breach and more — were exercises of his constitutional prerogatives as chief executive.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Goldsmith can call these arguments “legally powerful claims” all he wants, but the weight of reality is simply too great here. More on the “intent” issue in a bit.

Goldstein then says the third issue, in his reckoning the most difficult, is: “whether the national interest would be served by prosecuting Mr. Trump.”

He rightly says this is “a judgment call about the nature, and fate, of our democracy.”

A failure to indict Mr. Trump in these circumstances would imply that a president — who cannot be indicted while in office — is literally above the law, in defiance of the very notion of constitutional government. It would encourage lawlessness by future presidents, none more so than Mr. Trump should he win the next election. By contrast, the rule of law would be vindicated by a Trump conviction. And it might be enhanced by a full judicial airing of Mr. Trump’s possible crimes in office, even if it ultimately fails.

And yet Mr. Garland cannot be sanguine that a Trump prosecution would promote national reconciliation or enhance confidence in American justice. Indicting a past and possible future political adversary of the current president would be a cataclysmic event from which the nation would not soon recover. It would be seen by many as politicized retribution. The prosecution would take many years to conclude; would last through, and deeply impact, the next election; and would leave Mr. Trump’s ultimate fate to the next administration, which could be headed by Mr. Trump.

Along the way, the prosecution would further enflame our already-blazing partisan acrimony; consume the rest of Mr. Biden’s term; embolden, and possibly politically enhance, Mr. Trump; and threaten to set off tit-for-tat recriminations across presidential administrations. The prosecution thus might jeopardize Mr. Garland’s cherished aim to restore norms of Justice Department “independence and integrity” even if he prosecutes Mr. Trump in the service of those norms. And if the prosecution fails, many will conclude that the country and the rule of law suffered tremendous pain for naught.

Mr. Goldstein is a master of both-sides-ing. But the effort fails in my judgment because:

  • It is not the Attorney General’s job to promote national political reconciliation. His job is to prosecute serious violations of federal law. There are none more serious than the attempts to overthrow the government, subvert the election and declare Trump the winner even though he lost.
  • Confidence in the justice system, already threatened by partisanship and conflicts of interest on the Supreme Court, cannot be promoted by letting a public criminal walk free just because he was president.
  • Republicans have already made clear that, if they gain enough political power, they will pursue policies of retribution wholly independent of substantive merit. If Trump has a role in that, it should be from prison.
  • The people who will see Trump as a victim of politicized justice are the same people who deny Biden’s election victory. In the grand tabulations involved here, they are entitled to zero deference.
  • Justice Department norms of independence and integrity, undermined by Trump, can only be restored by indicting and trying Trump, not by pretending none of this happened.
  • If the Department of Justice won’t stand up for our democracy, we will, as Ben Franklin suggested, lose our republic.

I noted above that I would return to the issue of “intent” that many observers have claimed is the centerpiece of the legal defenses Trump would raise. See “Despite Growing Evidence, a Prosecution of Trump Would Face Challenges.” https://nyti.ms/3xKwrZ9 The authors of these ideas continue to suggest that Trump’s “intent,” his “corrupt state of mind, or not,” is a real issue and challenge for any prosecution.

Given what we already know, these concerns about Trump’s intentions border on preposterous. The repetition of them seems designed to prime the public mind to believe something that, like the Big Lie, is quite unbelievable because of, you know, the facts.

The New York Times piece recites Trump’s “arguments” based on a 12-page statement he issued last week, a statement the article described as,

· “rambling”

· “usual mix of outlandish claims, hyperbole and outright falsehoods”

· “unfounded”

· “obvious problems of credibility”

But also,

On nearly every page, Mr. Trump gave explanations for why he was convinced that the 2020 election had been stolen from him and why he was well within his rights to challenge the results by any means available. What happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Mr. Trump wrote, stemmed from an effort by Americans “to hold their elected officials accountable for the obvious signs of criminal activity throughout the election.”

If the Justice Department were to bring a case against him, prosecutors would face the challenge of showing that he knew — or should have known — that his position was based on assertions about widespread election fraud that were false or that his attempt to block the congressional certification of the outcome was illegal. [emphasis added]

As a potential defense, the tactic suggested by Mr. Trump’s statement is far from a guarantee against prosecution, and it presents obvious problems of credibility. Mr. Trump has a long history of saying whatever suits his purposes without regard for the truth. And some of the actions he took after the 2020 election, like pressing officials in Georgia to flip enough votes to swing the outcome in that state to his column, speak to a determined effort to hold on to power rather than to address some broader perceived vulnerability in the election system.

But his continued stream of falsehoods highlights some of the complexities of pursuing any criminal case against him, despite how well established the key facts are at this point.

What? The article emphasizes that Donald Trump is a dishonest and remorseless serial liar while simultaneously saying this complicates prosecution of him? This bizarre position is apparently based on the views of Daniel L. Zelenko, a white-collar defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor:

“The key is having contemporaneous evidence that he was saying that he knew the election was not stolen but tried to stay in power anyway,” said Mr. Zelenko, a co-chair of the white-collar defense practice at Crowell & Moring. “The problem with Trump is that you have to try and get inside his mind, and he has such a history of lying and pushing falsehoods that it makes it difficult to determine what he really believes.”

Another authority, Samuel W. Buell, a law professor at Duke University and former federal prosecutor, said:

any criminal case against Mr. Trump would have to start with establishing that he had been aware that what he was doing was improper. “You need to show that he knew what he was doing was wrongful and had no legal basis,” he said. “I’m not saying that he has to think: What I’m doing is a crime. It’s proving: I know I don’t have a legal argument, I know I’ve lost the election, but I’m going ahead with a known-to-be-false claim and a scheme that has no legal basis.”

If that is the standard, it has been met many times over. No rational juror could find otherwise based on the evidence presented during the January 6 hearings.

I recognize, of course, the article’s point that, “The House committee’s hearings are not a trial. The panel is free to be selective in what testimony it employs to build a case against Mr. Trump, and the former president has no allies on the committee who can question witnesses or provide information helpful to him.”

Consider for a moment who might be Trump’s “witnesses” to rebut the allegedly selective, but entirely consistent and multiply attested to, evidence presented by the January 6 Select Committee: Rudy Giuliani, Lin Wood, John Eastman, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell, and others similar. Most of them have either had their law licenses suspended, are subject to disciplinary proceedings or pleaded the Fifth Amendment 100 times when testifying to the January 6 Committee.

Against that “evidence,” would be the testimony of the former Attorney General (Barr), a Trump loyalist, and numerous other highly credentialed people who had investigated the fraud claims and advised Trump there was no evidence to support his claims. Also, Greg Jacob, VP Pence’s chief counsel. And many many others.

Unless we are going to follow a rule of law that says a person’s intent is measured entirely by whatever phantasmagorical imaginings they choose to adopt, which is not the law [unless they want to argue that Trump is insane, in which case, he gets committed 😎😃], Trump’s corrupt state of mind can readily be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The fact, if it is one, that he wanted to believe something else, something that was false, cannot be accepted as a defense any more than we would accept the excuse that the driver causing a fatal accident was blind drunk at the time. Every one of Trump’s responsible advisors told him, some many times, that there was no credible evidence of voter fraud that could change the result. He continued to declare that he won “by a landslide.”

It is beyond astonishing that credence is being given to the idea that because Trump was a serial liar, it may be harder to prove his guilt:

Expert advice is often enough to show a jury what a defendant knew, lawyers said. But that may be more difficult with Mr. Trump because he has such a long history of disregarding experts and his own aides, they said. Given the challenge of showing what Mr. Trump actually knew, there is one other way prosecutors could show he had a corrupt intent: proving what is often called “willful blindness.

Nonsense. The prosecution may choose to jump through all those hoops, but it should be more than sufficient to prove that Trump’s credible advisors told him his claims were false, but he persisted with the Big Lie anyway. A properly instructed jury could rationally and easily find Trump guilty on that basis. The suggestion that the prosecutors must somehow plumb the depths of Trump’s “mind” to determine and prove his subjective intent in fact is unnecessary and impossible. His behavior tells you what his mind was thinking. Trump has never cared about the truth and has always used his large resources and willing accomplices to avoid being held accountable. In this case his public conduct and the disclosed facts are more than sufficient to convict.

I recognize, however, there is the “what if we indict, try and lose” school of thought. The answer is, I suggest, straightforward. There are no guarantees when it comes to criminal prosecution. But we’re talking about the fate of the country here. This is no time for timidity. If DOJ’s leadership is too afraid of the possibility, however remote, of defeat, it should be replaced forthwith by people of more courage and determination.

I am at a loss as to why the media and many lawyers continue to treat Trump like a grammar school-aged toddler who still believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I understand that there are people, more than we would care to think, who genuinely believe that the Earth is flat, that aliens walk among us, that Q is real and on and on. But those “beliefs” would not be effective defenses to, say, a charge of bank robbery: “Well, your Honor and members of the jury, it’s true I robbed the bank, but I did it only because an alien visited me and said his group needed the money to buy a spaceship for return to their home planet. Many people want the aliens to leave so I was justified. You must find me innocent.”

Enough with this nonsense. Indict him, try him, and convict him.

 

Donald Trump — A Gangster in the White House

I write to give you the gist of Jeffrey Toobin’s excellent True Crimes and Misdemeanors.

If there is anything to be disappointed about, it is that the book was published in early August of 2020 and thus does not address Trump’s (and other Republicans’) incitement of the January 6 attack and his second impeachment. But there is likely little that Toobin could add at this stage to what is known about that, given the stonewalling by most of Trump’s enablers and the apparent indifference of the Department of Justice to the entire matter.

That limitation aside, this book, like the exceptional Where Law Ends by Andrew Weissman, displays throughout the gift of clear exposition. A complex tale told well. And, like Weissman, Toobin pulls none of his punches in judging the behavior of most of the participants in the criminal enterprise that defined the Trump presidency. If there is anything to complain about in that regard, it’s Toobin’s obvious fascination with and adoration of the role, style, and grit of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the only major player to come out of the Trump crime spree as a genuine hero in Toobin’s eyes.

The book reads like a true crime novel, and it is all about crimes. Sad to say, it’s also not a novel. It’s true. All of it.

So, where to begin? The book opens with a summary analysis of Trump’s survival despite the findings of the Mueller Report. There is plenty of blame to go around but much of it rests at the feet of Mueller himself:

Mueller’s caution and reticence led him to fail at his two most important tasks.  Thanks to the clever actions (and strategic inaction) of Trump’s legal team, Mueller failed to obtain a meaningful interview with Trump himself. Even worse, Mueller convinced himself – wrongly – that he had to write a final report that was nearly incomprehensible to ordinary citizens in its legal conclusions. [True Crimes at 8]

Toobin ends the opening with the observation that,

everyone – friends as well as enemies – knew what [Trump] had done. It was obvious to any sentient observer that he did what he was accused of in the Mueller Report and in the articles of impeachment. [[True Crimes at 11]

The book then narrates the story of how that happened, beginning with James Comey’s betrayal of the country by his decision to ignore FBI policy about disclosing details of investigations at all, let alone on the literal eve of an election, with the result that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was undermined at the last minute. The subsequent narrative will be familiar to everyone who was paying attention but the details, including many not previously revealed (to my knowledge) propel the story forward. Toobin concludes, “it appears likely, if not certain, that Comey cost Clinton the presidency.” [[True Crimes at 28] Indeed.

Toobin makes a compelling case that Robert Mueller was hyper-focused on bringing his investigation to a rapid close and thus failed to pursue “the single most important piece of evidence,” namely, the testimony of Donald Trump himself. But,

Mueller didn’t. He backed down. He couldn’t bring himself to launch a direct legal attack against the president of the United States. [True Crimes at 197]

Of all the mistakes made, and in truth every serious investigation of complex events will have some, the failure to force Trump’s testimonial hand stands out as the largest and the least understandable in light of Mueller’s assignment. Everyone – Mueller’s team, Trump’s lawyers – knew Trump would perjure himself if questioned under oath. He would have had extreme difficulty responding to skilled cross-examination of his conduct and motives. This is particularly important because Mueller believed that Trump’s “state of mind” was critical to bringing charges against him. For me, that will always remain a mystery. State of mind is simply never directly knowable, despite what we’ve seen in some phantasmagorical science fiction movies. It is inferable from conduct in context and circumstances, always.

Mueller made other mistakes. He should have squeezed Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer whom they had dead to rights on campaign finance violations and lying to Congress. Without ever asking whether his jurisdiction might include the Cohen issues, Mueller turned the case over to the Southern District of New York. Because those prosecutors, accomplished though they were, saw their role narrowly – Cohen was the target, not Trump – they never sought Trump’s tax returns or his financial records.

In a precursor to what was to come, William Barr, who had once been Mueller’s boss at DOJ, volunteered in June 2018 a 19-page memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had appointed Mueller as Special Counsel, attacking the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation. Barr argued that the president could, for any reason or no reason (the legal standard for “at will” employment firing), fire the head of the FBI (Comey) and such action could not be attacked as obstruction of justice. Barr also objected on constitutional grounds to any attempt to force Trump to testify. [True Crimes at 234-235]

Thereafter, negotiations over Trump’s possible testimony were postponed while Rudy Giuliani was brought in to lead Trump’s legal defense team. At a “get-acquainted” meeting with Mueller’s team,

Giuliani wanted to nail down Mueller’s commitment that he would follow the [DOJ Office of Legal Counsel] policy barring indictments of sitting presidents. Aaron Zebley volunteered that Mueller would. [True Crimes at 236, italics mine]

When I read that, I almost gagged. Zebley was Mueller’s former Chief of Staff at the FBI and his top aide in the Trump investigation. Zebley was the subject of much critical assessment in Andrew Weissmann’s Where Law Ends, discussed in detail here: https://bit.ly/3Jn8ye3

I can think of no plausible reason for Mueller or his team to offer such a concession at that point, or likely at any point, in the investigation without getting something of extraordinary importance in return. But, no, the point was “volunteered” away. Astonishing and inexplicable in my opinion.

Many key players in the prolonged saga of Trump’s presidency come in for harsh criticism in Toobin’s accounting, including Judge T.S. Ellis, the judge in the first trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair. Toobin notes the judge’s “partisanship and incompetence.” [True Crimes at 238] Strong words, indeed, but justified by the shocking events he narrates.

One beef I have with Toobin relates to the central issue in the Mueller investigation. Mueller concluded that there was no evidence proving that Trump or his campaign “colluded” with Russia. Toobin accepts this finding, with the qualification that Trump and his inner circle certainly wanted to collude. [True Crimes at 269] Given the failure to examine Trump personally under oath or to subpoena his taxes and financial records, Toobin’s total acceptance of Trump’s innocence on the collusion issue is, I think, unjustified. Even more so because Trump’s answers to the written questions ultimately submitted to him by Mueller included 36 instances of “don’t remember” by the man who repeatedly claimed to have a genius level mind and memory. [True Crimes at 273]

Toobin holds nothing back in stating that Rudy Giuliani’s involvement in the Ukraine extortion episode “must rank among the most disastrous pieces of advocacy in the history American lawyering.” [True Crimes at 292] No doubt, but Toobin also holds nothing back regarding the Mueller Report itself. He correctly concludes that the Report established that “Trump committed several acts of criminal obstruction of justice.” [True Crimes at 300] Using his gift of snark to full advantage, Toobin paraphrases the Mueller conclusions on obstruction:

We can investigate the President, but we can’t prosecute the President. If our investigation determined that he was in the clear, we’d say that – but we’re not saying that. Nor are we saying that he’s guilty of anything. So we’re not saying he’s guilty – but we’re not saying he’s innocent either. Basically. [True Crimes at 302]

Toobin characterizes the decision to avoid saying whether prosecution was warranted as a “gift to Trump.” [True Crimes at 302] Right again.

For several reasons, a special mention must be made of then- Attorney General William Barr’s issuance of a second letter, two days after he received the 448-page Mueller Report, interpreting the Report to say things it did not say and drawing conclusions the Report did not draw. Or, as Toobin put it, Barr put “a stake in Mueller.” [True Crimes at 307] And then, one of the highlights of the entire book for me,

Many on Mueller’s team, especially at the lower levels, were incandescent with fury at Barr.” [True Crimes at 308]

I don’t think will ever forget that phrase, “incandescent with fury” that so graphically describes how I and many others felt when Barr’s treachery sank in.

The book goes on to cover Trump’s Ukraine extortion scheme, the outrageous efforts of the White House and outside counsel to defend the indefensible, the refusal of Republican senators to hear the evidence through witnesses and their determination to protect Trump at any and all costs. Toobin is unsparing in his condemnation of these efforts, and all are worth reading.

The main thing that really surprised me in the book was an omission. I may have missed it, though I doubt it. There was no discussion of the fate of the full written report (I will not dignify it with the term “transcript,” since it was in no sense an actual transcript) on the Trump-Zelensky call that was widely reported to have been sequestered in a White House server to which access was extremely limited. I have seen no reports about whether the Biden administration has opened the server to discover its contents or whether the server was removed with by the outgoing administration to, again, protect Trump from further exposure of his crimes.

I also strongly disagree, as I have previously written, with the decision of the House managers (mainly the Speaker) to limit the impeachments to narrowly drawn issues, given the breadth and depth of Trump’s crimes in office. The House was not bound by the self-imposed limitations of the Mueller Report and, knowing, as the House did, that conviction of Trump was completely unlikely, they should have thrown the book at him, exposing for the watching world the range and importance of his crimes in office.

I also must record my fundamental disagreement with Toobin’s judgment about the proper role of the Senate in the impeachments. He says,

The senators were nothing more, and nothing less, than politicians were supposed to decide the president’s fate based just in part on the evidence at trial but also on their overall sense of what was best for the country.

That view is far too narrow and validates the refusal of the Republican Party to come to grips with the realities of Trump’s presidency. There remains, and history will confirm, no doubt that Donald Trump committed multiple crimes in office and that he committed crimes in attempting to stop the peaceful transfer of power to the Biden administration. To say that the Senate’s judgment was rightly based on a self-interested determination of “what was best for the country” makes a sham of the entire constitutional process. I do not believe the Founding Fathers, if they had been able to imagine a president like Trump, would have intended that the Senate could just say “it’s in our best interest to keep the leader of our party in power, so he’s ‘not guilty’ regardless of what he did.” I believe the Founding Fathers, whatever their other flaws, wanted and expected more when the extraordinary remedy of impeachment was brought against a president.

Toobin does not spend much time on Trump’s handling of the pandemic because that was not the primary topic of the book. But, as some of the Republican senators observed, the people would eventually render their judgment of Trump on election day in 2020. And they did. For reasons I still cannot grasp, Trump received more than 74 million votes, despite everything. But, fortunately for the republic and the world, Joe Biden won more than 81 million votes and a sufficient margin in the Electoral College to take the presidency. Then, Trump incited a coup to try to stop the transfer of power to the new president.

This was what Trump cared about the most. Toobin presciently notes,

Trump had no great passions on the issues, no policy agenda that he was determined to enact. For Trump, his presidency was more about him than what he could accomplish. For this reason, the only verdict that has ever mattered to Trump is the one rendered on Election Day.

Thus it was written and thus it was done.

You may recall Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress in which he likened Trump to a mafia boss. While Cohen’s handling of Trump and his legal affairs was problematic, to say the least, it appears that he correctly identified the central idea of Trump’s personal code of conduct.

The central question facing us now is, I think, whether the current Attorney General, Merrick Garland, is just another Robert Mueller. As an earlier post has discussed, the statute of limitations has already run on one of Trump’s obstruction crimes. Garland has publicly stated he will follow the evidence and the law even if it leads to Trump. More lawyers have apparently been hired to work on Trump matters.

Meanwhile, time marches only in one direction. The country waits for action. Trump’s crimes, and those of his enablers in the White House and Congress, stretch well back into his presidency, with the capstone being his incitement of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, more than 15 months ago. The nation waits ….

Is It Too Late?

On Sunday, January 2, 2022, the New York Times published an Editorial entitled “Every Day Is January 6 Now.” https://nyti.ms/3qKLbEH Rather than summarize it, I am going to quote liberally from it so that it’s clear who is speaking and what is being said. I may add some thoughts of my own here and there, clearly indicated, and, of course, at the end.

This is not to say that I think the Times is the final word on this or anything. I have, and will continue to, criticize the writing in the Times and other media whose careless and/or deliberate use of words takes news reporting into another realm. A recent example is this headline: “American officials scrambled to clarify Biden’s suggestion that Putin ‘cannot remain in power.’” https://nyti.ms/3NlwD8a Three co-authors are shown and, presumably, at least one editor reviewed the headline before publication. Drop the word “scrambled” and you have the same news: that officials offered clarifications of Biden’s statement. That is the fact, shorn of the authors’ nuances implying confusion and that Biden was making a proposal rather than some of the other possible interpretations of his remark. See https://bit.ly/3tKPiTa It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Times was tilting the table against the President here. Why would it do that?

It’s likely part of the journalism philosophy that leads to “both sides-ing” stories. In any case, the practice is inconsistent with the editorial position of the Times on one of the most important issues of our time. Returning, then, to my main purpose here, I quote now extensively from the editorial of January 2, noting in passing that it is now March 28, another fact to which I will return at the end. Bear with me. This is really important. Really. [ As usual, the bolded text is my doing]

Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties.

In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time….

The effort extended all the way into the Oval Office, where Mr. Trump and his allies plotted a constitutional self-coup.

We know now that top Republican lawmakers and right-wing media figures privately understood how dangerous the riot was and pleaded with Mr. Trump to call a halt to it, even as they publicly pretended otherwise. We know now that those who may have critical information about the planning and execution of the attack are refusing to cooperate with Congress, even if it means being charged with criminal contempt….

Over the past year, Republican lawmakers in 41 states have been trying to advance the goals of the Jan. 6 rioters — not by breaking laws but by making them. Hundreds of bills have been proposed and nearly three dozen laws have been passed that empower state legislatures to sabotage their own elections and overturn the will of their voters ….

Thus the Capitol riot continues in statehouses across the country, in a bloodless, legalized form that no police officer can arrest and that no prosecutor can try in court….

A healthy, functioning political party faces its electoral losses by assessing what went wrong and redoubling its efforts to appeal to more voters the next time. The Republican Party, like authoritarian movements the world over, has shown itself recently to be incapable of doing this. Party leaders’ rhetoric suggests they see it as the only legitimate governing power and thus portrays anyone else’s victory as the result of fraud — hence the foundational falsehood that spurred the Jan. 6 attack, that Joe Biden didn’t win the election….

Polling finds that the overwhelming majority of Republicans believe that President Biden was not legitimately elected and that about one-third approve of using violence to achieve political goals. Put those two numbers together, and you have a recipe for extreme danger….

Democrats aren’t helpless…. They hold unified power in Washington, for the last time in what may be a long time. Yet they have so far failed to confront the urgency of this moment — unwilling or unable to take action to protect elections from subversion and sabotage. Blame Senator Joe Manchin or Senator Kyrsten Sinema, but the only thing that matters in the end is whether you get it done. For that reason, Mr. Biden and other leading Democrats should make use of what remaining power they have to end the filibuster for voting rights legislation, even if nothing else.

Whatever happens in Washington, in the months and years to come, Americans of all stripes who value their self-government must mobilize at every level — not simply once every four years but today and tomorrow and the next day — to win elections and help protect the basic functions of democracy. If people who believe in conspiracy theories can win, so can those who live in the reality-based world.

Above all, we should stop underestimating the threat facing the country. Countless times over the past six years, up to and including the events of Jan. 6, Mr. Trump and his allies openly projected their intent to do something outrageous or illegal or destructive. Every time, the common response was that they weren’t serious or that they would never succeed. How many times will we have to be proved wrong before we take it seriously? The sooner we do, the sooner we might hope to salvage a democracy that is in grave danger.

[End of Times editorial]

Three months have passed since that editorial was published. We are now a year and three months past the January 6 attack on the Capitol and on American democracy. Here’s where we are:

  1. No main planners behind the January 6 insurrection (referring here to members of the Trump administration, members of Congress and Trump himself) have been indicted,
  2. Members of Congress and others continue to spit in the face of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol by defying demands, including subpoenas, for records and testimony.
  3. The Select Committee is moving at a pace that makes the tortoise in the famous tale look like War Admiral, the fourth winner of the Triple Crown. At this rate nothing of substance will have been accomplished by the mid-term elections of 2022.
  4. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice has not produced a single indictment of any of the principal conspirators behind January 6, or any indictments of those refusing to comply with lawful orders of the Select Committee, meaning that any indictment now almost certainly would not be tried before the 2024 elections.

I practiced law for 48 years, including conducting investigations of lying and highly resistant conspirators, and closely observed Watergate, the Clinton impeachment, and other sordid political matters. Strategies such as “run out the clock” are well-known by prosecutors. The statute of limitations has already run on at least one of Trump’s crimes. See https://shiningseausa.com/2022/02/18/trump-may-skate-obstruction-justice/

I understand the natural reluctance of prosecutors to bring cases they fear might lose and that might lead to judicial decisions with lasting negative effects on our politics. No one wants to be associated with losing a big case. But failing to bring a case that is justified by evidence, but where the law may be unclear, for fear of defeat is to be defeated already. You have beaten yourself and the country too. That’s where we seem to be now. We are defeating ourselves by allowing the primary perpetrators of the January 6 insurrection to escape swift justice.

Lawyers lose cases all the time. Every trial has a winner and a loser. It’s rare that losing a case has long-term consequences for the attorneys involved.

We’ve seen this before, as I noted in reviewing Andrew Weissmann’s remarkable analysis of the Mueller investigation in Where Law Ends: “rigid thinking and timidity in the face of threats from the subjects of the investigation led to catastrophic errors.” https://bit.ly/3uTJ7M7 Among the leading ones were decisions not to interview Trump’s children who worked in the White House throughout his term.

Even more egregious was the decision not to force Trump’s hand regarding testimony under oath. I almost fell over yesterday when reading in Jeffrey Toobin’s True Crimes and Misdemeanors [started before the 2020 election but only now being finished – more on that in a future post] that Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s chief of staff at the FBI and a senior member of the investigation team, committed one of the worst negotiating sins imaginable.

A meeting was held between Mueller’s people and Trump’s defense team, for the purpose of introducing Rudy Giuliani as the new lead defense lawyer. According to  Toobin, Giuliani wanted to,

nail down Mueller’s commitment that he would follow the DOJ’s Office Legal Counsel policy barring indictments of sitting presidents. Aaron Zebley volunteered that Mueller would. [True Crimes at 236]

It appears that Mueller got nothing in exchange for this astounding concession that removed one of the largest leverages that Mueller had. I would not have believed this happened were it not consistent with Weissmann’s descriptions of the influence Zebley exerted at critical moments in the investigation.

Successful investigations require maximum pressure. I don’t mean that the investigators should behave unreasonably or unfairly. That approach would likely backfire at some point. But there is no reason whatsoever to give away leverage without securing at least an equal value in some other form. As it happened, Trump himself was never placed under oath  for an interview, never answered many of the written questions posed to him and almost certainly lied in answering many others in which the self-declared “stable genius” claimed to not remember much of anything. See my series of posts about the Mueller investigation, beginning at https://bit.ly/3tLT2Us.

The Select Committee is run by politicians so there is perhaps even less reason to expect world-class investigative technique, but if something doesn’t change soon, the entire point will be lost. In what universe do leaders of a democracy, all sworn to follow the law and sustain the Constitution, walk free in the face of evidence that they conspired to overthrow the democratically constituted government?

I say ‘evidence’ recognizing we don’t have all of it. But if all the evidence would show they were innocent, is it plausible that so many members of Congress and of the Trump administration would refuse to cooperate, refuse to produce documents, and refuse to testify under oath? Enough is already known to warrant very aggressive and immediate action to bring the Republican dogs to justice. ALL of them.

As the New York Times astutely said back in January 2022,

Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

The White House and the Department of Justice had better wake up before it’s too late.

Trump May Skate on Obstruction of Justice

I am very sorry to report that the statute of limitations [SoL] has run against Donald Trump’s acts of obstruction of justice when he asked FBI Director James Comey to leave Michael Flynn alone. More on that in a moment.

First, I want to call to all readers’ attention the Lawfareblog at https://www.lawfareblog.com. For readers interested in, and able to tolerate reading lawyers’ opinions, this site has some of the most serious, law-focused discussion you will find anywhere regarding many of the key issues facing the country. As in the analysis of Trump’s obstruction conduct in the earliest known case, sometimes the lawyers’ analysis does not have a happy outcome. But it is always thought provoking, written by serious and accomplished people. Lawfareblog.com is a vast resource that I hope you will visit and support.

Now, back to the bad news. The article that addresses the Statute of Limitations issue regarding Comey and Flynn is at https://bit.ly/3LJqn9q. The SoL expired on February 14 with no action by the Department of Justice to hold Trump accountable for the first of at least 10 instances of obstruction of justice identified by Mueller. The Special Counsel took no action because he believed he was bound by the DOJ position that it could not indict a sitting president. Mueller also had a very narrow understanding of the job he has been given, as detailed in the compelling and important book, Where Law Ends, by Andrew Weissmann, one of Mueller’s chief deputies. I reviewed the book at https://bit.ly/3LENvWF

It is a remarkable work, and everyone should read it.

Mueller’s failure to act left it to the Garland DOJ to pick up the case after Trump left the White House. He didn’t. The running out of the SoL means that, regarding the Comey-Flynn episode, we are SOL. As more time passes, the SoL will foreclose, one by one, any possible accountability for the other nine cases Mueller identified and several that, in my opinion, he inexplicably missed.  See, for example, my extensive discussion of the Mueller Report on the obstruction of justice issues:

https://bit.ly/33zmPFI

https://bit.ly/3LDkdYB

https://bit.ly/3JDzIhf

https://bit.ly/3oYM7o7

https://bit.ly/3I52g2I

The Lawfare blog includes a heat map that graphically illustrates the threat posed by the calendar for 14 possible charges of obstruction (4 more than Mueller identified and more in line with my analysis). In thinking about the obstruction issues, it is important to understand that there are three crucial elements to conviction on any charge:

Obstructive Act

Connection Between the Act and an Active Investigation

Corrupt Intent

By the end of July 2022, DOJ will lose the ability to charge Trump with the two instances in which even Mueller thought were the stronger cases for proving obstruction.

Meanwhile, as Lawfare notes with concern, DOJ remains mute.

At this stage, it is not clear whether a single Department of Justice attorney has reviewed the Mueller report since Trump left office. And it’s not clear either whether anyone will before the statutes of limitations run down. In the absence of a statement from Garland, the public knows virtually nothing about the status of the Justice Department’s investigation into these potential acts of obstruction by Trump. We can only speculate as to what may be happening.

The balance of the Lawfare article consists of an analysis of five scenarios regarding DOJ’s posture. Lawfare admits this is all speculation – it must be since AG Garland is not talking. Many of the five scenarios are decidedly offensive but that doesn’t mean they aren’t correct explanations of what is happening – and, not happening.

Lawfare then makes a compelling case for the Attorney General to explain to the country what is going on regarding Trump’s obstruction of justice. Silence is the least acceptable path forward. Lawfare is right about this, I believe. Read it, I urge you, and judge for yourself.

 

Court Eviscerates Barr Attempt to Whitewash Mueller Report

Federal District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson yesterday issued a 35-page opinion (exclusive of attachments) rejecting the claims of the Department of Justice that it can withhold  a memorandum behind then-Attorney General Barr’s attempt to whitewash the Mueller Report.  Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. U.S. Department Of Justice,  Civil Action No. 19-1552 (DC DC May3, 2021). [Note: bolding of text is mine]

You may recall that, as brilliantly reported by Judge Jackson, and at the risk of giving away the conclusion,

 On Friday, March 22, 2019, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III delivered his Report of the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election to the then-Attorney General of the United States, William P. Barr.

But the Attorney General did not share it with anyone else.

Instead, before the weekend was over, he sent a letter to congressional leaders purporting to “summarize the principal conclusions” set out in the Report, compressing the approximately 200 highly detailed and painstakingly footnoted pages of Volume I – which discusses the Russian government’s interference in the election and any links or coordination with the Trump campaign – and the almost 200 equally detailed pages of Volume II – which concerns acts taken by then- President Trump in connection with the investigation – into less than four pages. The letter asserted that the Special Counsel “did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,” and it went on to announce the Attorney General’s own opinion that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

The President then declared himself to have been fully exonerated.

The Attorney General’s characterization of what he’d hardly had time to skim, much less, study closely, prompted an immediate reaction, as politicians and pundits took to their microphones and Twitter feeds to decry what they feared was an attempt to hide the ball.

When, almost a month later, Barr presented the Mueller Report to Congress, “He asserted that he and the Deputy Attorney General reached the conclusion he had announced in the March 24 letter “in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other Department lawyers.” CREW immediately filed Freedom of Information Act requests for any documents related to those consultations. Predictably, DOJ resisted, citing exemptions from disclosure based on “deliberative process” and “attorney-client privilege.”

At issue then before the Court were two memoranda to the Attorney General. The DOJ justification for withholding the first one, the Judge noted, was poor, but the Judge conducted an in camera [private, in chambers] review of the document and gave DOJ a helping hand:

there was a particular, immediate decision under review to which the document pertained, that it also addressed another specific issue that was likely to arise as a consequence of the determination made with respect to the first, and that the entire memorandum was deliberative with respect to those decisions.

Judge Berman therefore held that document need not be disclosed to CREW.

The other document, however, was another cup of joe entirely. It was dated just two days after Mueller gave Barr the report and “specifically addresses the subject matter of the letter transmitted to Congress.” Most of the document is redacted in the Judge’s opinion but she also conducted, over DOJ’s strenuous objections, an in camerareview of that document.

Noting first CREW’s objections to the timeline represented by DOJ attorneys:

DOJ’s . . . arguments rest on the demonstrably false proposition that the memo was submitted to the Attorney General to assist him in making a legitimate decision on whether to initiate or decline prosecution of the President for obstructing justice . . . . [H]owever, the Special Counsel already had made final prosecutorial judgments and the time for the Attorney General to challenge those judgments had passed. Whatever the contents of the March 24, 2019 OLC memo, it was not part of a deliberation about whether or not to prosecute the President….

The absence of a pending decision for the Attorney General to make necessarily means the memo did not make a recommendation or express an opinion on a legitimate legal or policy matter. Instead, it was part of a larger campaign initiated by Attorney General Barr to undermine the Special Counsel’s report and rehabilitate the President . . . .”

The Judge concluded:

the redacted portions of Section I reveal that both the authors and the recipient of the memorandum had a shared understanding concerning whether prosecuting the President was a matter to be considered at all. In other words, the review of the document reveals that the Attorney General was not then engaged in making a decision about whether the President should be charged with obstruction of justice; the fact that he would not be prosecuted was a given.

In a footnote, most of which is redacted, the Judge noted, “DOJ made a strategic decision to pretend as if the first portion of the memorandum was not there.” Ooof.

Similarly, Judge Jackson later observed,

the in camera review of the document, which DOJ strongly resisted …. raises serious questions about how the Department of Justice could make this series of representations to a court in support of its 2020 motion for summary judgment

and,

summary judgment may be granted on the basis of agency affidavits in FOIA cases, when “they are not called into question by contradictory evidence in the record or by evidence of agency bad faith.” But here, we have both.

Noting a previous court opinion (the EPIC case) that found,

The speed by which Attorney General Barr released to the public the summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s principal conclusions, coupled with the fact that Attorney General Barr failed to provide a thorough representation of the findings set forth in the Mueller Report, causes the Court to question whether Attorney General Barr’s intent was to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller Report – a narrative that is clearly in some respects substantively at odds with the redacted version of the Mueller Report.

Judge Jackson found,

the [DOJ] affidavits are so inconsistent with evidence in the record, they are not worthy of credence.

and,

the suspicions voiced by the judge in EPIC and the plaintiff here were well-founded, and that not only was the Attorney General being disingenuous then, but DOJ has been disingenuous to this Court with respect to the existence of a decision-making process that should be shielded by the deliberative process privilege. The agency’s redactions and incomplete explanations obfuscate the true purpose of the memorandum, and the excised portions belie the notion that it fell to the Attorney General to make a prosecution decision or that any such decision was on the table at any time.

and,

A close review of the communications reveals that the March 24 letter to Congress describing the Special Counsel’s report, which assesses the strength of an obstruction-of-justice case, and the “predecisional” March 24 memorandum advising the Attorney General that [redacted text] the evidence does not support a prosecution, are being written by the very same people at the very same time.

As to the claim of attorney-client privilege, Judge Jackson was equally incisive and for similar reasons:

… since the memorandum was being written at the same time and by the same people who were drafting the Attorney General’s letter to Congress setting forth his views on the basis for a prosecution, and the record reflects that the priority was to get the letter completed first one simply cannot credit the declarant’s statement that the Attorney General made the “decision” he announced based on the advice the memo contains.

Finally,

The Court emphasizes that its decision turns upon the application of well-settled legal principles to a unique set of circumstances that include the misleading and incomplete explanations offered by the agency, the contemporaneous materials in the record, and the variance between the Special Counsel’s report and the Attorney General’s summary.

These devastating (for the DOJ attorneys) findings confirm the suspicions that I and many other expressed at the time that the fix was in at the Barr Justice Department and that Barr was acting more as personal counsel to Trump than doing his job as Attorney General of the United States.

Judge Jackson gave DOJ until May 17 to move for a stay pending appeal, but it is unlikely that AG Merrick Garland is going to do anything to resist the force of Judge Jackson’s definitive analysis. Stay tuned. The release of an unredacted version of the Judge’s opinion will be an explosive eye-opener about the extent of corruption in the Trump-Barr Justice Department.

 

Great Expectations Meet Legal Reality

Politico appears to have joined the ranks of journalists who, having lost their matinee idol (Donald Trump), have turned their attention to throwing dirt at the Biden administration. It’s apparently hard doing political journalism when the President is a normal human being who actually works at his job and doesn’t spend all day demeaning others while praising himself.

In any case, Politico reports that for some reason, not entirely clear to me, the Biden administration may be embarrassed by the prospect that many of the insurrectionists who invaded and debased the Capitol on January 6 may not do much, if any, hard jail time. https://politi.co/3wbBBMj

There is nothing new or surprising about that possibility and no reason for the Biden administration to be “embarrassed” about it.

This click-bait story suggests that it was reasonable to believe that every one of the crazed mob of Trump supporters would be charged with felonies and imprisoned under very long sentences for their crimes. At the same time it notes that the many “lower-level cases” are clogging the District of Columbia federal trial court where all these cases are being “heard.” Those lower-level cases involve misdemeanor charges that typically plead out.

The reason for this is not ‘justice.” If justice were to be had here, all of the people who invaded the Capitol to stop the final approval of Biden’s election victory would be charged with felonies and required to plead to deals involving meaningful jail time.

But practical reality governs in these situations. Mass arrest scenarios rarely lead to jail time for  many who are swept up in the arrest net. This has been true for as long as mass arrests have occurred. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_arrest  The court system simply cannot handle trials of hundreds of people on top of its already heavy case load.

The result is that “deals” are made between prosecution and defense to an agreed sentence, often probation for first-offenders when only property damage is involved, in exchange for a guilty plea that avoids the time and cost of a jury trial. This is true almost regardless of the circumstances, although, as a society, we generally do not treat white people who commit “light crimes” with the harshness meted out to minority defendants.

There is, of course, an unusual amount of visual evidence in these cases — hundreds of hours of video of the crime scene. While the videos show a staggering amount of violence by the mob that led to dozens of injuries to police, it is apparently also true that many of those identified and arrested so far were not actually engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the Capitol Police or in physical desecration of the building. These people allegedly just “went along for the ride.” If so, they almost certainly will end up “pleading” to some misdemeanor offense and may indeed be spared jail time. That is an outrage given the threat to our democratic system that they attempted to achieve, but the judicial system simply cannot cope otherwise.

Politico takes this simple reality to the extreme of making a “federal case” out of nothing in stating that,

The prospect of dozens of January 6 rioters cutting deals for minor sentences could be hard to explain for the Biden administration, which has characterized the Capitol Hill mob as a uniquely dangerous threat. Before assuming office, Biden said the rioters’ attempt to overturn the election results by force “borders on sedition”; Attorney General Merrick Garland has called the prosecutions his top early priority, describing the storming of Congress as “a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.

Justice Department prosecutors sent expectations sky-high in early statements and court filings, describing elaborate plots to murder lawmakers — descriptions prosecutors have tempered as new details emerged.

Nonsense. There are plenty of serious cases of violence that will lead to meaningful jail time and other penalties for the perpetrators. Many felons remain to be identified and arrested. This is not going away. It was a “uniquely dangerous event.”

The report is accurate in noting the time pressure on the prosecution, but again this is not unusual in mass-arrest cases. Speedy trial is a constitutional right, sometimes ignored, but a right nonetheless. And we can be sure that these virtually all-white “protestor insurrectionists” will get every advantage to which they are accustomed.

Other than the target of this particular mob, and the inspiration for their attack (the former president), there is nothing especially unusual about these cases. Mayhem has degrees just like other violence and the law treats each case individually. It’s likely that violent “protestors” in Portland and other places are facing the same issues, and opportunities, as the insurrectionists who attacked the Capitol.

I, at least, deeply hope that none of the Capitol attackers is going to receive what Politico refers to as a wrist-slapping. This attack was not a response to a prior event (as, for example, the protests after George Floyd’s murder) – it had a specific goal: to stop Congress from carrying out its constitutional duty to certify the election. The article refers to people “who walked into the building that day without authorization.” That, I  believe, fails to recognize the gravity of what was happening that January 6. Few, if any, of the insurrectionists just “walked into the building” – the proof is in the videos.

Politico says, “the Justice Department will soon be in the awkward position of having to defend such deals, even as trials and lengthy sentences for those facing more serious charges could be a year or more away.” Again, there is nothing “awkward” about this, beyond the simple inability of the judicial system to cope, in a constitutional democracy, with mass-type arrests, whether all at once or individually later for crimes that occurred together. Politico adds to its hyping of a non-existent issue by noting that Trump continues to lie about what happened on January 6, claiming this adds to the “political awkwardness” of the situation.

Wrong. Trump will continue lying and blathering to his last breath. Except for his die-hard political base, no serious person thinks Trump has any substantive contribution to make to the American political situation. It is certainly and indisputably true that Trump can be expected to keep lying about January 6 in an effort to thwart what he rightly fears as criminal prosecution of himself personally. No one is more deserving.

Unfortunately for journalism, Politico uses a common Trump formula in referencing “what many in the court system are referring to as “MAGA tourists,” a phrasing of unknown provenance (who, actually, are the “many” who call the insurrectionists “MAGA tourists?”) and calculated to diminish the significance of what happened on January 6.

Finally, I note that some of the January 6 defendants continue to run off at the mouth on Twitter and other social media, claiming they did nothing wrong and remain proud of their actions that day. Those defendants should face the full weight of the law – no deals for them. Let them stand trial if they like and face sentencing for their January 6 conduct and their continuing indifferent or outright hostility to the rule of law. Unless the judges in these cases want a repeat of January 6 or worse, they had better take a direct approach to such cases that are deserving of no leniency or special treatment.