I keep coming up against this — and then backing away from it because it seems either like a rhetorical question, or a question that begs the obligatory “we all are.” But I really think we need to ask not rhetorically and without assumption about the answer: who or what is going to stop the blatant undermining of our democracy by the Administration and its enablers?
We know that Russia interfered with our election. We know that because the press has reported that all 17 of our intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered with our election.
We also know that the FBI and others have been investigating the hacking and other interference since the summer, at least. And we know that those investigations have not led to prosecutions yet. And we know further that Reince Priebus, the President’s Chief of Staff, has communicated directly with the FBI about how/whether/when to pursue the investigations.
We also know that the FBI has all kinds of information about who knew what when about Michael Flynn’s contacts with the Russians before, during and after the election. We also know that the FBI knows that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about these contacts with the Russians. Which is a felony, by the way.
And we know that the person in charge of deciding whether to bring prosecutions for any of these potential violations of all kinds of federal, state and possibly international laws is our new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. And we know that Jeff Sessions was Nominee Trump’s Senior Foreign Policy Adviser, and that he was a vice-chair and senior national security adviser during the Transition. Did you also know that Senator Sessions’ former staff director at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Brian Benczkowski, helped manage Trump’s Justice Department transition? What are the odds?
And it’s not only the Executive Branch. Congress too has a role in deciding whether to pursue any of the information the FBI and other intelligence agencies have uncovered. What is the likelihood of that, given the party loyalists’ weak stomach for opposition; not to mention the White House’s lack of inhibition about putting its thumb on the scale?
And this is not only on the topic of Russia. The same pattern can be seen when examining how the Muslim ban came about — Sally Yates does her job, she gets fired; the Department of Homeland Security prepares a report whose conclusion is that “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity;” the White House nixes the report (we know about it only through leaks).
What about investigating Trump’s conflicts of interest? His tax returns? What about the new Commerce Secretary’s insane ties with a Cyprus bank run by a Russian billionaire who gave Trump a $60 million windfall back in the mid 2000’s? Who is going to insist on pursuing these things?
We have two potential investigatory bodies — the Justice Department of the Executive Branch and the standing, select and joint committees of the Legislative Branch. And if that’s not enough, these two investigatory bodies can either or both create or request an independent investigatory body (e.g. special prosecutor, special committee, etc.).
There is, in other words, no shortage of tools. Just not, it appears, anyone willing or able to use them.
We have a system of checks and balances to protect our great Democracy. That system depends on everyone — or at least the vast majority — sharing a unified (if not identical) vision, accepting some basic, fundamental truths about how we want society to function. Our system of checks and balances is not working because the people in power — both in the White House and in Congress — do not appear to share that vision anymore. Either for ideological reasons — Steve Bannon’s fight for “deconstruction of the administrative state” — or because they are good loyal soldiers who want to keep their jobs, those charged with defending and protecting our Democracy are failing to do so.
So who, what, where is the Democracy police?