Biden's big mistake: Trump can't be allowed to escape legal consequences

Biden's big mistake: Trump can't be allowed to escape legal consequences
MSNBC screenshot

President-elect Joe Biden is privately telling his advisers that he doesn't want investigations of Donald Trump to dominate his presidency, according to NBC News. Biden fears wide-ranging inquires would both serve as a distraction from his agenda and alienate Trump's base at a time when Biden hopes to unify the country.

The discussions come amid growing pressure from some Democrats intent on launching investigations into Trump's time in office, his many violations of law, and those who committed illegal acts at his direction. To be clear, the potential violations are too numerous to even list and more infractions will almost certainly surface once Biden appointees take over the various agencies and get a look under the hood. Other illegal activity also includes Trump's conduct outside of government related to his family business, tax returns, and more.

Biden could potentially affect how rigorously Trump is investigated on several levels, including by seeking to set the tone for the Democratic House majority and his own Justice Department. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will also take part in shaping how much energy is devoted to reviewing Trump's tenure with a scaled down Democratic majority and competing factions within her caucus.

Whether Democrats manage to regain a majority in the Senate could also play a role in shaping House Democrats' overall agenda. Having a functional Democratically controlled Senate that might actually pass much of Biden's agenda rather than simply leaving bills to die in the upper chamber would surely motivate the House caucus to focus more heavily on passing critical legislation that can actually help the country dig out of Trump's COVID-19 recession hole.

But Biden has also signaled that he intends to reestablish the wall that existed between the White House and the Justice Department before Trump came in and decided the department was there to serve his every whim—be it defending him and his friends, threatening his political enemies, or fabricating investigations of his political rivals.

In some ways, it makes perfect sense that Biden doesn't want his entire presidency consumed by probes into Trump, his minions, and an inevitable cycle of recriminations. But Donald Trump so misused and abused the federal government that his entire tenure represents an assault on American democracy itself, not to mention a series of crimes against humanity, ranging from literally ripping children away from their parents and caging them to intentionally slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Americans through coronavirus denialism and weaponization of disinformation.

For those reasons, Trump and those who did his bidding must be held to account through both criminal inquiries and uncovering information that could mar the reputations of certain individuals for life. This is absolutely critical to preserving the integrity of our republic moving forward. Using the U.S. government to commit crimes against humanity cannot be tolerated at any level.

Biden can preach unity all he wants, but it is incumbent upon the incoming administration to make it glaringly clear that efforts to subvert our democracy and use the federal government for malign political purposes carry with them a steep cost for everyone involved. This is a fundamental part of safeguarding our democracy. Otherwise, the next autocrat—who will surely be far more competent than Trump—won't think twice before trodding the same paths Trump did, but with greater efficacy and fervor.

Biden clearly wants to make his presidency about healing our nation. Part of that healing includes inoculating it against the fascist impulses that are pulsing through the conservative movement right now. If House Democrats want to limit their number of inquiries by focusing on several key areas or specific transgressions, that's a reasonable approach. But don't pull any punches in those investigations—they must be thorough, relentless, and unsparing.

As for the Justice Department, Biden should simply pick good people and get out of their way—as most American presidents have done for centuries. Both the criminal and civil divisions of the department must be allowed to follow the trail of Trump-era transgressions unfettered by Biden's political agenda. Just like Trump was wrong to so explicitly give his Justice Department marching orders, the same will be true for Biden even if his guidance is in the service of restraint.

But no matter what happens, the ongoing investigations of Trump and his family business at the state level by the Manhattan DA and New York attorney general will continue. Biden's wishes should and must have zero impact there.

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