The Promise of Criminal Prosecutions
Rep. Adam Schiff and other leaders of the House Select Committee investigating Jan. 6 say they will make their subpoenas mean something
These days it can be tough to find reasons for hope—when the Department of Justice and its Attorney General refuse to say whether he’s pursuing prosecutions of the inciters, organizers and funders of January 6, particularly the Inciter-in-Chief. When dozens of state legislatures are working methodically to deny voting rights. When 147 elected traitors voted to overturn the legitimate victory of Joseph R. Biden—and are still mouthing off as if they did nothing wrong. And when too many elected officials are failing to grasp the existential danger our democracy is facing.
But I took hope from Rep. Adam Schiff’s assertions on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday that the House Select Committee will pursue criminal prosecutions of Trump operative Steve Bannon, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino and Pentagon aide Kash Patel if they defy subpoenas for documents and testimony—as urged by Donald Trump.
Aware that many worry the committee investigating January 6 will not enforce their will, Schiff said the panel “wants to make sure these witnesses come in and testify, and we are prepared to go forward to and urge the Justice Department to criminally prosecute anyone who does not do their lawful duty.”
Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence committee and member of the House Select, was not the only one: On Friday chairman Bennie Thompson and vice chair Liz Cheney said in a statement that “we will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral.”
This followed the strong statement by the Biden White House that they would not invoke executive privilege to block the release of documents now in the custody of the National Archives. “The president’s dedicated to ensuring that something like this could never happen again, which is why the administration is cooperating with the ongoing investigation,” said White House spokesperson Jen Psaki. “The president has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not warranted for the first set of documents from the Trump White House that have been provided by the National Archives.”
While Trump’s legal gang tried to invoke executive privilege and is threatening to sue to block the release, White House counsel Dana Remus wrote to the national archivist that the documents “shed light on events within the White House on and about January 6 and bear on the Select Committee’s need to understand the facts underlying the most serious attack on the operations of the Federal Government since the Civil War.”
I’m not surprised that Adam Schiff is working assiduously to crack through the wall of lies and denials that Trump and his enablers continue to push. After all, Schiff is the one who—as the lead of the first Trump impeachment trial in February 2020—most vividly rang the alarm bell in his concluding speech.
“He has betrayed our national security, and he will do it again…He has compromised our elections, and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters less…You can’t trust this president to do the right thing. Not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country. You just can’t…A man without character or ethical compass will never find his way.”
In the coming days, we can count on more gaslighting from Trump and dealings by his legal operatives to distract, delay and otherwise try to deny the release of documents and convince the subpoenaed to refuse to testify. This is the kind of maneuvering that breeds cynicism and deepens doubt that the previous White House occupant will ever be held accountable.
But for now, let’s take Schiff, Cheney and Thompson at their word—and maintain a glimmer of hope that they will put an end to the contempt toward Congress, the hostility toward the rule of law and the determination to protect the guilty.
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