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[COMMENTARY] U.S. Must Hold Trump Accountable, Not Just “Move On”

Political commentators have said that once Donald Trump departs the Oval Office on Jan. 20 the United States should simply try to forget about him, shrug him off and enjoy the Joe Biden calm after the chaos of the past four years. Just fumigate the White House, implement a real strategy for defeating the coronavirus and curing its economic ills and move on, America.

One of the most thoughtful members of the U.S. Senate, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, disagrees. He believes that unless the country takes a full accounting of the bull-in-a-china-shop level of damage done by the Trump administration to the fabric of the United States the country is at risk of repeating the disaster of electing someone like Trump.

Writing in Salon, Whitehouse says it would be a mistake for the incoming Biden administration to take the easy path and leave Trump’s misdeeds to the judgment of history. “Donald Trump and his henchmen have made a concerted attack on American democracy, and done so much corrupting damage that it would be dereliction to give them a pass,” the senator writes.

He believes three areas of Trump’s presidency in particular need to be investigated: “One is the administration’s denial of climate science, done at the bidding of the fossil fuel industry and its array of front groups. Another is the corruption Trump and his administration fomented within federal agencies. The last is the damage to the Department of Justice, where Trump cronies — to paraphrase the legendary 19th-century Chief Justice John Marshall — from the citadel of the law turned its guns on those whom they were meant to defend.”

Whitehouse makes the case that Congress should establish special committees to look into each of those matters. Armed with their own staffs and full investigative and subpoena powers those committees could pursue adjudicating Trump’s wrongs while allowing the full Congress to carry on with its regular business. “Whether the goal at the end of the day is truth and reconciliation, procedural and institutional reform, or justice and accountability for misdeeds, investigations will be essential,” Whitehouse writes. Separate investigative bodies assigned to these tasks will leave regular agencies and committees free to begin the urgent business of governing, and move us forward.”

[Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images]
The Rhode Island senator, correctly, is most concerned about the damage to the rule of law that Trump’s wrecking ball has wrought in the Department of Justice. With Bill Barr officially serving as attorney general, but acting more like Trump’s personal attorney, DOJ’s reputation for fairness and independence is in tatters. “Because much of the department’s integrity was safeguarded by institutional norms and traditions, and because of the special nature of the department’s responsibilities,” Whitehouse suggests, “respected Justice veterans should guide its restoration. President Biden’s new attorney general should be tasked to form a bipartisan advisory committee, linked to the DOJ’s inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility, but with its own staff. Personnel actions and referrals of cases may be necessary; institutional norms and enforcement must be strengthened; new safeguards will need to be constructed; and changes in administrative structure may be needed. The Office of Legal Counsel, for instance, has run so many political errands and is so discredited that it should perhaps have its work distributed elsewhere within the Justice Department.”

Whitehouse notes that Barack Obama’s administration made a policy decision to move forward and let history be the judge of his predecessor’s administration. Considering the breadth and depth of the damage that Trump and his enablers have done to this country, failure to look back is not an option this time.



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