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Prelude to a Perp Walk: "Team Normal" Takes the Stand

Jeff Robbins on

Those who had hoped that the public hearings of the congressional committee investigating former President Donald Trump's attempted coup d'etat would land with a thud must be disappointed by the wall-to-wall coverage of the evidence of the former president's effort to stay in office after being voted out of it. Every network has covered them except Fox, which would have run Roto-Rooter commercials rather than facilitate the viewing of the testimony.

Some 20 million Americans watched the committee's opening session in prime time, and that doesn't count those who watched excerpts on social media or cable. An ABC/Ipsos poll conducted last weekend found that 60% of Americans feel the committee is conducting a fair, impartial investigation. Worse yet for Trump World, it found that 58% believe that Trump should be indicted.

The committee meticulously laid out its case through the live and videotaped testimony of witnesses from Trump's inner circle: his attorney general, his deputy attorney general, White House counsel, his campaign manager and even his daughter. Their testimony demonstrated that Trump knew he'd lost the election, knew that the only fraud was his own fraudulent claim of election fraud, knew that Vice President Mike Pence had no authority to reject the electoral ballots from states President Joe Biden had won and knew that when Trump demanded that Pence reject them anyway, he was demanding that Pence violate the Constitution and federal law. That testimony was augmented by that of Pence's chief counsel and of iconic conservative jurist J. Michael Luttig, both of whom advised Pence that what Trump was demanding was illegal.

Trump's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, described those in the Trump White House who tried weakly to persuade the president of the United States to obey the law rather than break it as "Team Normal." But this was only relative to the dominant team in the White House, "Team Wack Job," captained by the leader of the free world, which came within a hair of ending American democracy. It might have been nice had "Team Normal" spoken up before Jan. 6 instead of 18 months afterward, and also nice had they told the truth without the threat of congressional subpoenas requiring them to answer questions honestly or face perjury charges.

The committee has not messed around merely demonstrating Trump's disregard for his country, his dereliction of duty or his historic lack of moral compass. There's no longer any point to that.

It has focused instead on laying out the case that Trump is criminally culpable -- quite simply, a crook. It is demonstrating that the evidence that he committed federal crimes isn't merely substantial, and that it is not just evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, but evidence that comfortably exceeds that high standard. And it is tailoring its presentation to two federal criminal statutes in particular. One makes it a crime to corruptly attempt to obstruct, impede or influence an official proceeding like the constitutionally mandated counting of electoral votes. The other makes it a crime to conspire to defraud the United States by obstructing an official proceeding by dishonest or deceitful means.

 

The committee is not exactly shooting in the dark here. Indeed, a federal judge who had occasion to review barely a sliver of the evidence of Trump's culpability has already ruled that he "more likely than not" was guilty of these two crimes, if not others. That judge hadn't even seen the mountain of evidence that the committee possesses inculpating Trump.

Ominously for Trump, the Justice Department has asked the committee to turn over copies of all of the transcripts and documents it has obtained during its investigation. Attorney General Merrick Garland has the unenviable task of deciding whether to seek to indict Trump, which will further inflame our national divisions, or decline to indict him, which will ruin America's right to regard itself as a nation of laws.

At Mar-a-Lago, Trump and his loyalists aren't just riding around in golf carts. They are chewing their fingernails.

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Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.

Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

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