Joe Biden’s presidency, at least in its early days, will inevitably be haunted by Donald Trump; just cleaning up the wreckage Trump leaves behind could take years. But a new report from NBC News says that Biden has no interest in investigating much of anything that happened in the past four years:
President-elect Joe Biden has privately told advisers that he doesn't want his presidency to be consumed by investigations of his predecessor, according to five people familiar with the discussions, despite pressure from some Democrats who want inquiries into President Donald Trump, his policies and members of his administration.Biden has raised concerns that investigations would further divide a country he is trying to unite and risk making every day of his presidency about Trump, said the sources, who spoke on background to offer details of private conversations.They said he has specifically told advisers that he is wary of federal tax investigations of Trump or of challenging any orders Trump may issue granting immunity to members of his staff before he leaves office. One adviser said Biden has made it clear that he “just wants to move on.”
When it comes to criminal investigations, Biden has said that he won’t be telling the Justice Department what to do, which is the appropriate position for a president to take. But it’s also appropriate for the department to decide that if there is reason to suspect that a crime occurred, it will investigate, and if the investigation demonstrates that a crime occurred and determines who committed it, those people will be prosecuted. Even if it involves a former president or his associates. It’s not complicated.
We’ve heard this idea that we should “move on” before. Twelve years ago, Barack Obama said that when it came to the fact that his predecessor had initiated a program of torturing prisoners that was not only a moral abomination but also did incalculable harm to America’s image in the world, “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”
No one was ever held accountable in any way. So what would happen to an official who was an active participant in the torture program, first overseeing a “black site” where torture took place, and later supporting the destruction of videotape evidence showing the brutality of the agency’s torture program? In a country where moral principles reigned, she wouldn’t be able to get a job in a McDonald’s, so profound would be the disgust at her actions. But today she’s the director of the CIA.
Biden’s desire not to get bogged down with the misdeeds of the Trump administration is certainly understandable. But it doesn’t have to involve him at all. Congress has investigatory power, and Democrats will hold the House and perhaps the Senate as well. There are many topics they ought to investigate — the way Trump used the presidency to line his pockets, the conflicts of interest that might be revealed by his tax returns, horrific policies such as the separation of immigrant children from their parents, the repeated and blatant violations of the Hatch Act — so we can understand whether changes need to be made in the law to prevent them from recurring in a future administration.
The Hatch Act, which forbids the use of government resources for political campaigns, is a perfect example. Both parties used to respect it, but Trump and his aides realized that enforcement of the law is spotty and significant punishment is rare, so they set about to break the law not only promiscuously but also with apparent glee at the knowledge that no one could stop them. When asked at one point about a Justice Department watchdog recommending her removal for her multiple, shameless violations of the law, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway replied with a sneer, “Let me know when the jail sentence starts.” This attitude culminated in a party convention that took place in large part at the White House.
So do we need a new set of harsh penalties to keep that from happening again, if an administration as lawless and corrupt as Trump’s should come along? How else might the law be changed? You figure that out by investigating and documenting the Trump administration’s behavior.
And unlike the zillions of investigations of Democrats that Republicans have mounted whenever they had the opportunity, these wouldn’t be undertaken solely to gain political advantage. But so what if they were? That’s politics. If there’s actual wrongdoing to be exposed, then the investigation is justified.
The difference between the two parties on this question is just extraordinary. As I’ve said in other contexts, Republicans are the party of “Yes we can” while Democrats are the party of “Maybe we shouldn’t.” They’re forever afraid that someone will criticize them or that being too tough will backfire, something Republicans never worry about.
Which leads to this disheartening line in the NBC News story:
One of the reasons [Biden] has given aides is that he believes investigations would alienate the more than 73 million Americans who voted for Trump, the people familiar with the discussions said.
You have got to be kidding me.
Those 73 million Americans voted for the most corrupt president in American history, a con man and a liar and a bigot and a tax cheat and a sexual predator and someone who as we speak is poisoning our democracy on his way out the door. And Biden is worried that exposing his misdeeds will hurt their feelings?
We can’t simply act as though the four-year ordeal we all just lived through was nothing but a bad dream. We need to understand the full scope of the damage and how our system failed to stop it. In some cases, that will involve investigating Donald Trump and those who helped him, and if there’s a way to hold them accountable, that’s just what we should do. It’s not a distraction. It’s an obligation.
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