Charlie Pierce: ‘Our Democratic Institutions Won’t Defend Us. They Won’t Defend Themselves.’


A few days ago Rick Wilson wrote a piece about how William Barr was the most dangerous man in America. Wilson went on to state that Barr’s job is to protect Donald Trump, “no matter the prerogatives of Congress or any consideration of the rule of law. Bill Barr is not the attorney general of the United States. He is the Roy Cohn whom The Donald has craved since become president; an attorney general who sees his duty as serving Trump.” Wilson also went on to riff on Congress for it’s softball questions and nicey-nice treatment of Barr. Charlie Pierce has a similar take about Barr’s misbehavior and notably, Steve Mnuchin’s:

The Attorney General of the United States writes a parody of a summary of a special counsel’s report and then slow-walks his explanation in front of a House committee and behaves in all things like a consigliere instead of an attorney general. (The Unitary Executive becomes more badly Unitary when the Executive is both crooked and, arguably, demented.) The Secretary of the Treasury blatantly refuses to observe a statutory requirement that he turn over the president*’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee. This requirement goes back to 1924. Nobody disputes either its plain meaning or its legal bona fides. The only reason that those tax returns have not been delivered yet to the committee is that Steve Mnuchin and his boss don’t want to do it.

Pierce goes on to cite the statute that governs Mnuchin, and it’s clear. Mnuchin either has to do his job and provide the tax returns or be subject to five years in prison.

In short, if the system were working according to the law, William Barr and Stephen Mnuchin already would have lost their jobs and would be hiring lawyers to plea-bargain them out of five years in federal prison. But the system is not working according to the law. The system is not working at all. The system is not working because the people in it, the people who are elected to make it work, are choosing not to do their jobs and, in failing to do their jobs, they are failing to defend the institutions they represent. The three branches of government are supposed to be equal. They are supposed to be in constant tension because, the theory goes, that tension prevents the accumulation of power and, therefore, protects the liberty of a self-governing people. You’d have to be blind or stupid to believe that’s the way the government is functioning now.

Mnuchin is arguably in contempt of congress right now, and possibly Barr as well.

This also has occurred to Rep. Bill Pascrell, Democrat of New Jersey, who has been dogging the administration* for the president*’s tax returns for longer than anyone else in the Congress. Pascrell told Politico that he, anyway, believes it’s time to drop 2 U.S. Code § 192 on Barr, Mnuchin, and a whole lot of other folks.

“I want to take a look at contempt of Congress here,” Pascrell said, “because the way Mnuchin talked and the way he writes, he’s very dismissive of the legislative branch of government, particularly if that part of the legislative branch of government is controlled by the Democratic Party.”  It’s incumbent on Congress to defend its Constitutional prerogatives, Pascrell said.

But it hasn’t been doing that. Pascrell is out there alone. Instead, the House has been dilatory in fulfilling this obligation, when it hasn’t been ignoring it entirely. If it won’t defend its day-to-day prerogatives, it’s damn sure not going to impeach a president. He knows it and the members of Congress know it, too. And, most dispiriting of all, the people out in the country take it now as the way it ought to be.

We are living in treacherous times, and it behooves everyone to keep a keen eye on what’s happening here. Barr and Mnuchin have already stretched the envelope far more than any other holders of their offices in recent memory. There is a pattern in the Trump administration, not only of complicity, but of downright defiance of the rule of law, the very thing that these officials took an oath to uphold and protect.

Our elected leaders need to stand up to this cabal of crooks and nip this in the bud. Mnuchin needs to comply with the requisite statute or face the legal consequences thereof, and Barr needs very much to stop spouting conspiracy theory and playing propaganda games. They need to either return immediately to the norms of government or be dealt with appropriately by our elected leaders. Government has to govern itself.


[Editor’s note:]You may have noticed that there isn’t a hot link to this Esquire article by Charles P. Pierce. This is from his newsletter, which is a paid feature. However, I believe that Esquire will let you at least look at it and see if you like it before you spend money so here’s a link to Esquire.The title of the article is the headline above.


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4 Comments on "Charlie Pierce: ‘Our Democratic Institutions Won’t Defend Us. They Won’t Defend Themselves.’"

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I see a lot of yelling and screaming about cowardly Democrats who should be doing … something. It’s one of the reasons I am taking a (possibly permanent) break from DailyKos — epic Democrat bashing because Democrats won’t turn over the tables and start brawls. My question is precisely who gets to do this? Can the House on its own get a warrant for their arrest? Does something have to pass both houses of Congress? What is process or procedure here? This is uncharted territory because we have literally never had a president this lawless and I wonder if anyone… Read more »

This is why the PROCESS of impeachment has to start. This doesn’t just apply to Trump, but also to his senior minions. Start pulling them in for hearings, subpoena and arrest for no shows.
After all, in 1821, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress needs the power to hold someone in contempt or else it would be “exposed to every indignity and interruption that rudeness, caprice, or even conspiracy, may meditate against it.”
In a nice piece of irony, the Supreme Court stands on the site of the old Capitol Jail.