Opinion

Presidential Accountability: Lost in the Senate

Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr

By: Larry J. Schweiger

 

Anyone attempting to hold Trump or any of his criminal cronies accountable should expect to get fired or at least trashed on Twitter. It is a pattern repeated during the past three-and-a-half years. 

In unprecedented actions during the past several weeks, Trump has been purging Inspectors Generals for doing their job addressing wrong-doing in their respective agencies. He fired Michael Atkinson, who was overseeing the Intelligence Community, Mitch Behm covering McConnell’s wife heading the Transportation Department, Glenn Fine the watchdog for the Defense Department, Christi Grimm covering the Health and Human Services and most recently, Steve Linick. Linick was actively investigating wrong-doing by Pompeo, the Secretary of State. As the leader, Trump and his administration are to be accountable for oversight. Trump and Cabinet members are responsible for any failures, as well as successes. Accountability comes as part of the job description, which is why blocking it will cause long-term harm to the levels of accountability previously existing.

Most recently acting as Trump’s attorney, U.S. Attorney General William Barr facilitated the firing of Geoffrey Berman, a Trump selected U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Barr issued a statement on Friday night announcing that Berman was stepping down and that Trump would nominate Jay Clayton to replace him. Clayton, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has no experience as a prosecutor and, most importantly, previously represented Deutsche Bank. This bank bailed Trump out of his bankruptcies. It facilitated Russian money-laundering that landed the bank in serious legal trouble.

In a failed Friday night massacre, Barr lied, saying that Berman resigned. In a surprise and courageous move, Berman responded in a written statement, “I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney. I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate. Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption. I cherish every day that I work with the men and women of this office to pursue justice without fear or favor—and intend to ensure that this office’s important cases continue unimpeded.”

Barr was caught in another lie and went to Trump to fire Berman. On Saturday, Trump fired Berman, who managed a series of cases against Trump and his allies, including Michael Cohen, Trump’s current lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, and Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman indicted for funneling Russian money to Republicans. Berman is believed to be investigating Trump’s finances, among many other Trump-related matters, and the administration wants to delay or interrupt further investigations.  

Former National Security Advisor John Bolton suggested another reason from his forthcoming book claiming that Trump assured Turkey’s autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan he would fill the Southern District with his loyalists, which would enable him to do Erdogan a political favor. Preet Bharara, Berman’s predecessor, tweeted a rhetorical question, “Why does a president get rid of his own hand-picked U.S. Attorney in SDNY on a Friday night, less than 5 months before the election?”

When asked about the firing, Trump denied his role and shifted the story back to Barr, who did not have the authority to fire Berman. Berman must be getting close to something big impacting Trump for this to happen. The Supreme Court is close to deciding whether Deutsche Bank and Trump’s accountants must hand Trump’s financial records over to Congress and/or to the Manhattan district attorney. This decision could ignite serious trouble for Trump. 

Trump and Barr were hoping the story of this firing would get lost in a Friday-night news dump. Instead, it will go into history as another clear obstruction of justice by Trump.

The Constitution has a built-in mechanism for Presidential accountability through the impeachment process. Still, the Republicans in the Senate broke this most important safeguard with a sham trial. There is no possibility of another impeachment proceeding between now and the November elections. The failure of the Senate to hold Trump accountable has had a profound impact on a lawless President who now believes he is above the law and removed from all accountability. Even with new revelations from Bolton and perhaps a decision from the Supreme Court, we should expect continued “crickets” from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the many spineless Republicans. They are ignoring the dangerous actions of a criminal president.

Two Republican Senators, Tennessee and Senator Bob Corker and Arizona Senator, called it quits after repeated run-ins with Trump. Corker called the White House an adult daycare center. In a Senate speech, Jeff Flake warned, “so powerful is the presidency that the damage done by the sustained attack on the truth will not be confined to the president’s time in office… we know well that no matter how powerful, no president will ever have dominion over objective reality. No longer can we compound attacks on truth with our silent acquiescence. No longer can we turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to these assaults on our institutions. And Mr. President, an American president who cannot take criticism – who must constantly deflect and distort and distract – who must find someone else to blame — is charting a very dangerous path. And a Congress that fails to act as a check on the president adds to the danger… To be very clear, to call the Russia matter a “hoax” – as the president has many times – is a falsehood. We know that the attacks orchestrated by the Russian government during the election were real and constitute a grave threat to both American sovereignty and to our national security. It is in the interest of every American to get to the bottom of this matter, wherever the investigation leads.”

Trump claimed he toppled Corker’s and Flake’s re-election chances, and by so doing, he scared spineless politicians, including Pennsylvania Senator Toomey, into complete submission. Republicans in the House and Senate have been towing the Trump line with the sole exception of Senator Mitt Romney, who voted to impeach Trump. A John Bolton subpoena and calling other witnesses could have revealed the truth about Trump’s crimes. Still, the Senate under Mitch McConnel fast-tracked the process and failed to investigate the impeachment of Trump properly.

When Senators failed to hold Trump accountable, things that were already bad, started to go dangerously awry. Not long after the Senate voted against conviction, Trump claimed he had the virus under control, delayed aggressive testing, and failed to make sound choices to meet the virus’s challenges. Trump sees testing as a form of accountability and fought against testing from the beginning. This is what he said about his efforts at his poorly attended Tulsa rally. “Here’s the bad part…you do testing to that extend, you’re gonna find more people, you’re gonna find more cases. So I said to my people, slow the testing down, please. They test, and they test.” 

He fears the virus threatens his re-election and thinks he can somehow ignore it and hope it would just go away. Early on, he said the cases would go to zero. Now over 120,000 Americans are dead, and 40 million are unemployed. Trump did not create the virus, but he mismanaged the response at every turn. He destroyed so much because he put his ambitions ahead of the needs of the American people.  

Trump’s gross negligence has resulted in more deaths than the deaths that occurred in the First World War. If Toomey the Republican lawmakers toke their duty seriously when things with Trump started to go wrong, they could have asserted their authority as lawmakers and restrained his many irresponsible actions. When Toomey is up for re-election, we must remember how poorly he performed during Trump’s time in office and especially with the impeachment. Senator Toomey and the other Republicans failed to convict in the face of clear and compelling evidence. They have gone into spectator mode watching impotently as the Trump government fails to address so many pressing issues, including the climate crisis, pandemic, and Black Lives Matter. Here in Pennsylvania, we need to hold Senator Toomey responsible for his failure to hold Trump accountable. Voting in every election and volunteering to get others out to vote are vital for restoring accountability.

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