Today the January 6 committee held its final meeting to lay out criminal referrals to the Justice Department for potential prosecution.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol accused former President Donald J. Trump on Monday of inciting insurrection, conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an act of Congress and one other federal crime as it referred him to the Justice Department for potential prosecution.
The action, the first time in American history that Congress has referred a former president for criminal prosecution, is the coda to the committee’s 18-month investigation into Mr. Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election that culminated in a violent mob of the former president’s supporters laying siege to the Capitol.
The criminal referrals were a major escalation for a congressional investigation that is the most significant in a generation. The panel named five other Trump allies — Mark Meadows, his final chief of staff, and the lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani, John Eastman, Jeffrey Clark and Kenneth Chesebro — as potential co-conspirators with Mr. Trump in actions the committee said warranted Justice Department investigation. The charges, including a fourth for Mr. Trump of conspiracy to make a false statement, would carry prison sentences, some of them lengthy, if federal prosecutors chose to pursue them.
The committee’s referrals do not carry legal weight or compel any action by the Justice Department, which is conducting its own investigation into Jan. 6 and the actions of Mr. Trump and his allies leading up to the attack. But the referrals sent a powerful signal that a bipartisan committee of Congress believes the former president committed crimes.
Clearly this is a historic moment. As the above excerpt from a New York Times story says, never before has Congress referred a former president for criminal prosecution. Such didn't happen even with Nixon after his Watergate scandal was revealed. So says a TIME magazine story.
No congressional committee ever issued a criminal referral to the Department of Justice for Nixon. Rather, the reverse occurred, as Leon Jaworski, the special prosecutor tasked with investigating Nixon, sent Congress a “roadmap” laying out evidence of criminal violations Nixon was believed to have committed including bribery, perjury and obstruction of justice.
Because Nixon was a sitting president, Jaworski initially believed it made more sense for Congress to move forward with impeachment proceedings, than trying to prosecute Nixon in a court of law. Facing impeachment in the House, cratering support from his fellow Republicans, and looming criminal charges from a grand jury, Nixon resigned from office before facing prosecution.
So two Republican presidents have come closest to being prosecuted for crimes committed during their time in the White House. Nixon found little support from fellow Republicans, while Trump still enjoys considerable support from his base, though it is steadily slipping.
The question of how Democrats would respond to a Democratic president being credibly accused of crimes as bad as those committed by Trump interests me.
My wife, a Democrat like me, believes that members of our political party wouldn't stand for the outrageous behavior that Trump engaged in during his four years in office (thank heavens it wasn't eight).
Laurel thinks that Democrats care more about ethics than Republicans, who are more prone to being concerned about maintaining power in the sense of "ends justify the means." In large part I agree with her.
Republicans do appear to fall in line behind a leader more than Democrats do. This makes them vulnerable to a malevolent leader like Donald Trump who has been able to maintain much of his base in the Republican Party even as evidence of his numerous crimes accumulates.
My own view is a bit less confident in the willingness of Democrats to hold a Democratic president accountable for serious wrongdoing while in office. (Compared to Trump, I don't see what Bill Clinton did to be anywhere near as serious.)
I do believe that a Trumpian candidate wouldn't make it very far in Democratic presidential primaries. Democrats care about ethics. They also care about electability. I suspect that this would prevent a Trump-like Democrat from ever becoming president.
But if he or she did, another factor would come into play, the same one that helped Trump remain popular among Republicans during his time in office: producing results.
I try to imagine how I'd react if a Democratic president had managed to get several liberal Supreme Court justices confirmed; passed major legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ban assault weapons, increase taxes on billionaires, make Puerto Rico and the D.C. states, and other Democratic priorities -- then was enmeshed in a major scandal.
Would I be more willing to overlook the scandal because of all the good the Democratic president had ben able to accomplish? Sure, I would. And I think lots of other Democrats would feel the same way.
Thus while I'm fine with being critical of Republicans who stand by Trump no matter what horrible things he does, I have to admit that while I'd never be OK with a Democrat who acted just as badly, I'd overlook some ethical failings if that leader was able to produce significant benefits for the nation.
Which means I can't be totally holier-than-thou when it comes to Republicans defending Trump, though I am confident that I'd be less willing to go along with a Democrat doing everything Trump did while in office.
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