Constitutional Crisis Looms as Trump Maneuvers to Kill Investigations

 

by Anne Jaclard

 
The US is hurtling toward a Constitutional crisis, one that pits Donald Trump against the rule of law and the authority of other branches of government. And we can only expect that law will be upheld if people taking to the streets can succeed in stopping the president.

The crisis follows the midterm elections on November 6, which were a massive repudiation of Trump by the voters. Many seats in the House of Representative changed hands—39 or 40 new seats were won by Democrats (one district is still counting the votes), and the Democrats won many other posts in a near-sweep of areas that were not solidly Republican.

The result is that the House of Representatives will be in the hands of the Democrats as of January 3, establishing a Congressional check on Trump for the first time in his presidency. This huge defeat for Trump spurred him to take action to shut down Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Republicans’ collusion with the government of Russia in the 2016 election, his obstruction of justice, and other crimes.

The very day after the elections, Trump began his long-threatened process of eliminating or suppressing Mueller’s investigation. Trump needed to take immediate action because (1) Mueller is said to be close to winding up his investigation, and rumor has it that Donald Trump, Jr. is about to be criminally indicted; and (2) as of January 3, the Democrats in the House will begin to investigate Trump themselves, and may use Mueller’s report for impeachment or other action against Trump. The Democratic Party leadership had already announced its intention to investigate many aspects of his election and presidency, using its new control of House committees and subpoena power.

So, less than 24 hours after the polls closed, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and illegally installed an outright stooge, Matthew Whitaker, as Acting Attorney General. Whitaker is now Mueller’s boss. He controls the entire Department of Justice, which gives him the power to indict, sue, and make its policy for the federal government.

Trump is maneuvering to fire Mueller and to stop the investigation dead, or to keep its report private, and to get any sealed or impending indictments withdrawn. Whitaker has long expressed his views that the Mueller investigation is invalid and, moreover, that courts do not have extensive power to review executive decisions or Congressional acts; he called the judiciary “the inferior branch.” He also opined in 2014 that only adherents to the New Testament should be judges, and said then he would block the appointment of non-Christians. All new federal judges, and Mueller’s actions and reports, will now have to be approved by this man—if he doesn’t fire Mueller outright.

But Whitaker is not entitled to the post of Acting Attorney General under the laws governing succession in that department—he was just Session’s assistant, not in the number two or three position in line for succession to the top post. Moreover, due to his prior statements about Mueller, he is legally compelled to recuse himself from overseeing that investigation; but he has said he will not recuse himself. Even crazier, Whitaker himself is said to be under criminal investigation by the FBI for his role in a company that was recently fined by the federal government for fraudulent business practices. Since the FBI is part of the Department of Justice, Whitaker is now its boss too.

If he is not removed by legal process, Whitaker can remain acting Attorney General for several months, until a new Attorney General is appointed with the approval of the Senate. If he can end or block the Mueller probe, he will have served Trump well.

Americans’ reaction was immediate and strong. The day after the appointment, people took to the streets in some 900 to 1,000 protests across the US, demanding that Mueller be protected and that Whitaker go.

The protests will need to continue and intensify in order to stop Trump’s push to end liberal democracy in the U.S. and to substitute his own one-man rule.

 

Protest in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan. Credit: M. Stan Reaves.

 

Protest in front of Trump Tower in Manhattan. Credit: M. Stan Reaves.

 

Democrats’ Election Victories Threaten Trump Mightily

The election was a huge victory for the Democrats and an enormous repudiation of Donald Trump and the Republicans who have turned the party over to him. The House of Representatives will, on January 3, have a solid Democratic majority. New Trumpite legislation should become impossible to pass, and the Democrats are planning to investigate all Trump’s illegal actions and his finances.

The Democrats also won more governorships and control of more state legislatures, some in very “red” (Republican) states. There is no question that these victories were the result of grassroots organizing to run candidates, register people and turn out the vote. With the help of Indivisible’s playbook for grassroots organizing and pressuring officeholders, some reactionaries chose not to run in for re-election, and hundreds of thousands of new voters were registered and turned out to vote. This was especially the work of rural and suburban women, African-American organizations and youth efforts. The Parkland high school-based “End Gun Violence” movement alone registered 50,000 young people to vote in the hopes of electing people who would stand up to the NRA and legislate gun control.

But the Senate will remain in Republican hands. No comparable sweep to the House victory could take place there, because only a third of the seats were up for election, and most of that third happened to be from solidly Republican states. And although the House can impeach (bring charges against) Trump, only the Senate can try him, convict him and remove him. Also, only the Senate approves judicial and high-level administrative appointments, including the cabinet.

The election also showed that Trump retains his solid base of 35 to 45 percent of the voters—even after everything he has done. It will take more catastrophic events to break his hold on them; their love of racism and totalitarianism continues unabated, and Trump plays to them continuously. The task now is to stop Trump from seizing total control of the country by illegal means, and from using his base to enforce his rule. Right-wing paramilitaries have headed to the Mexican border to “help out” the authorities there in blocking Central American migrants from crossing the border; they are undoubtedly also practicing to protect Trump from Congress and the courts.

The threat of a crisis dulls whatever hope there may be for significant change coming out of the new House of Representatives. It can slow down the Republican agenda but it cannot, by itself, stop the illegal means of extending Trumpism, nor many of the legal ones. Again, only mass movements can do that.

 

Trump Acts Increasingly Crazed

Trump has become even more unhinged by the vote against him, which he and everyone else had called a referendum on him. He continuously attacked the Democrats for “election fraud” even though there were no allegations of actual fraud. He keeps finding new “threats” to distract from his electoral defeat and from Mueller’s probe and indictments.

The above-described events transpired within just one week after the election. One nearly forgets that three weeks earlier, twelve prominent Democrats and critics of Trump were mailed pipe bombs by an avid Trump supporter. A week after that, an anti-Semite who is to the right of Trump opened fire on Jews at prayer in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 and wounding others. That murderer justified his action by repeating Trump’s propaganda about the “caravan” of Central American immigrants who are walking toward the US border to ask for asylum, calling them “invaders” who will slaughter “our people.” He thought that stronger measures were needed to protect against the “invasion.”

Right-wing conspiracy media have blamed the caravan on Jews, specifically on the billionaire George Soros and the refugee aid group he funds, HIAS. Other recent murderers—one in Kentucky killed two African-Americans at random—were clearly inspired by Trump’s racist talk as well. As for gun control, the mass killings by both neo-Nazis and plain nuts continues unabated—12 people were shot dead in a California bar on November 9. Hate crimes are on the rise.

 

Anti-Immigrant Hysteria Rises—by Trump

The “caravan” and “invasion” have been Trump’s continuous racist theme about the immigrants’ journey, which he harped on at every pre-election rally he spoke at. Now he has sent 5,200 American troops to “fortify” the border with Mexico, even though there are plenty of border agents and other authorities to maintain order. So now highly trained, battle-ready troops are laying some barbed wire but have nothing else to do. The military is prohibited by law from using guns within the US, although Trump has declared that they may do so to repel this “invasion.” Everyone, including the military commanders, knows the “threat of invasion” from the asylum-seekers is pure political nonsense. Only Trump and his base believe it—or pretend to. But meanwhile, Border Patrol agents have begun tear-gassing women and children on the border.

Trump has ramped up his rhetoric and threats. He now says he will shut down the whole border, and also shut down the government if Congress’s new funding bill does not include the billions of dollars he wants to build a border wall. (Parts of the US government will shut down after December 7 if a new funding bill has not been passed by that time.) He brings up that wall, which he promised while running for president, whenever he wants to incite his base. Not even the sycophantic Congressional Republicans give his wall any chance of passing.

All of the Trump administration’s prior scandals pale before these recent events. Gone from the headlines are the blatant corruption of Trump’s cabinet heads, Ivanka Trump’s receipt of Chinese patents in return for favorable trade terms, Trump’s tepid words (and no action) against Saudi Arabia for its horrendous murder of the Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident and writer for the Washington Post. Trump clearly explained that because he US benefits from trade with Saudi Arabia, he will not disturb that relationship. But it is widely known that his family businesses have relied and continue to rely on significant sums of Saudi money.

And Trump’s war against the media continues and intensifies; he denounces “fake news” daily. He had a CNN reporter’s White House press pass pulled after a verbal tussle at a press conference; Trump falsely alleged that the reporter had shoved a White House staffer, even though it was all on tape and he did no such thing. A court quickly ordered that the pass be reinstated.

It doesn’t take prescience to compare Trump to Hitler and other totalitarians. His playbook is just the same in major areas like immigration and the press. Ironically, it is exactly 100 years since the end of World War I—the armistice that had been hailed as marking the end of national chauvinism and strife.

 
Jewish and non-Jewish residents of Pittsburgh demonstrate against Trump’s visit to the city in the wake of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue.
 

We support the Resistance which, every day and in different ways, is growing and taking to the streets. The murder of the Pittsburgh Jews at prayer has produced outcry and marches in the US and around the world. The 900 to 1000 protests against the new Acting Attorney General are just a hint of what will happen if Trump fires Mueller or tries to hide or nullify his findings.

The tasks we face are to stop Trump and to aid the development of resistance, rebellion, and ideas about a new society.

 

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