That is, if the new administration chooses to accept that mission.
A new report from the Democratic-allied Center for American Progress both lays out an argument for why Biden should indeed take on that mission and offers a suggested road map on how to do that.
The core argument for acting ambitiously to fumigate the Trump administration’s corruption is a straightforward moral hazard one:
A constant of the Trump administration has been escalation in the absence of accountability. If a free pass is provided to those that broke the law and subverted democracy, it will embolden them and any illiberal politicians or administrations in the future to show even greater disregard for the rule of law.
One question that will be tough to answer is: Where to start?
The CAP report suggests beginning with the Justice Department, with a full review of special treatment accorded to Trump allies, such as Roger Stone and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, both of whom Trump championed.
Also worth examining might be the attorney general’s efforts to discredit his own agency’s conclusions about a massive foreign attack on our democracy, as Trump implicitly but relentlessly demanded.
But, crucially, CAP suggests that such a review must not involve the White House at all. It would instead involve career Justice Department officials or the inspector general, and Congress (if it’s controlled by Democrats) would potentially have a major role.
Which immediately highlights an interesting conundrum: to what degree members of a Biden administration could undertake such an internal examination without involving Biden in any way, since that would risk straying into the sort of politicization that is the problem under Trump.
Another area for such fumigation might be the president’s constant attacks on inspectors general and whistleblowers. This is one of the clearest areas in which Trump has sought to wreck one of the most important anti-corruption and pro-accountability innovations of the post-Watergate era.
One answer to this, suggested by CAP, would be to try to reinvigorate the role of IGs. This could of course be done through the act of respecting their independence but also explicitly and actively reaffirming that independence.
CAP also suggests that major agencies should conduct their own internal reviews of corruption that took place under Trump — the Environmental Protection Agency is an obvious candidate — which could theoretically involve inspectors general, revitalizing their role in that way.
Yet another area — not discussed in the CAP report — would entail new legislative safeguards against the sort of relentless financial self-dealing that Trump engaged in. A model is Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) blueprint requiring the IRS to release presidential candidates’ tax returns.
Such an effort would be led out of Congress. But Biden would surely be pressed to bless (and then sign) it.
This is of course a very partial list of what might need to be done. But the very fact that a mainstream outfit such as CAP is already pushing Biden in this way suggests he — and/or members of his administration — may feel great pressure to act along these lines.
Many other stakeholders in Washington who have been glaring at Trump’s contempt for the rule of law from the sidelines for so long will also surely offer their own blueprints, adding to the chatter around what will be a huge national debate, should Biden win.
And yet, having campaigned on a vow of post-Trump reconciliation — and facing the daunting task of unifying a battered country around national solutions to the coronavirus pandemic and a potential economic depression — Biden might feel disinclined from sinking too much political capital into an effort along these lines, which might feel akin to diving right back into Trump’s black hole.
The CAP report tries to address this, arguing that ultimately, it’s more divisive and risky to allow all this corruption to slide, and that in the end, reaffirming the rule of law should itself constitute a unifying act.
Of course, Trump himself will make this as hard as possible. As the report notes, Richard Nixon “resigned from office in disgrace, providing some measure of accountability for his actions.”
By contrast, Trump will steadily rage about any such efforts at an accounting from private life, his Twitter thumbs as active as ever. And GOP opportunists in the Senate who see advocating for the Lost Cause of Trumpism as their path to glory in 2024 will add to the bellowing.
All of which is a reminder of the vast scale of the garbage field we’ll all be digging out from under, should Biden win. And that’s if we’re lucky.