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Witcover: No executive privilege for Trump’s effort to subvert Constitution

By Jules Witcover - | Oct 18, 2021


WASHINGTON — As a congressional committee investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol approaches, President Joe Biden has rejected former President Donald Trump’s attempt to claim executive privilege and thus to duck the inquiry into his role in it.

In so doing, Biden overruled Trump’s instructions to former White House and campaign officials to ignore subpoenas seeking testimony and related documents. Trump quickly shot back, alleging the inquiring committee Democrats were launching an “assault on our Constitution and important legal precedent” that “will not work.”

Accordingly, one of the committee’s prime targets, former Trump political and policy adviser Steve Bannon, has said he will not comply. Biden now must turn to the judicial branch to determine whether executive privilege can be invoked by a former president. Sitting president Richard Nixon sought relief from it in 1974 Watergate case and lost, but such an appeal can be an effective delaying tactic.

Two other former Trump officials, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Pentagon adviser Kash Patel, have shown signs of cooperating with the committee, among about 50 others whose testimony is sought.

House Select Committee Chairman Rep. Bernie Thompson of Mississippi and minority member Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a vocal Trump critic, said they expect full compliance, adding: “We will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral.”

Meanwhile, Biden is pressing his own very ambitious agenda, known as Build Back Better, which aims to spend trillions of dollars over the next decade to revive and rebuild the U.S. economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has won high grades so far in driving the pharmaceutical industry to produce vast supplies of effective vaccines to speed economic recovery. Statistics on COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations have begun to shrink, along with unemployment rates.

But Biden’s mishandling of the withdrawal of U.S. military and diplomatic forces from Afghanistan has caused serious slippage in his overall popularity in the polls. So the jury remains out as his presidency moves forward in its first year.

Biden, long a devotee of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, talked in 2020 of running “an FDR-style presidency” if elected, and has made a down payment on it with his own policy agenda.

He has proposed a conspicuous expansion of the social safety net aimed at boosting working-class Americans that rivals FDR’s New Deal. He is pushing for two major infrastructure bills, one of which would expand Obamacare and major climate change initiatives.

At the same time, Trump is taking bold, self-serving and desperate step to turn the clock back to his brand of seat-of-the-pants management. He is trying to sabotage Congress’ investigation into the Capitol insurrection and his role in inspiring it. He even praised Ashli Babbitt, the woman shot dead by a Capitol policeman as she stormed the Speaker’s Lobby on Jan. 6, all but calling her a martyr for his cause of unlawfully overturning the 2020 election.

America has had more than enough of his amateur-hour intrusion into our honorable political life. Biden, despite whatever shortcomings he may have as a folksy, down-to-earth ordinary Joe, offers a steady, reliable and predictable return to honest business as usual after this country’s dark interlude of corrupt Trumpmania.

Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.


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