I repeat: Where’s the Prosecutor?

Here we are again:  another show of reckless disregard for our national interest, let alone security, another non-denial denial by a loyal soldier, another tweetstorm that throws aides and allies under the bus, and still no real end in sight.   All Senator Mitch McConnell, the most powerful man in Congress — one of the few people who really could move this whole thing along — could muster was, “I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda,” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/16/us/politics/republican-senate-mcconnell-white-house.html

Putting aside the question of what McConnell’s “agenda” actually is, let’s consider instead, the question many of us have been pondering for weeks and months:   who is going to hold Trump and his cronies accountable? http://profgrose.com/hello-is-there-a-prosecutor-in-the-house/.

Last week, Quartz published a comprehensive list of investigations into Trump’s Russia ties — check it out here: https://qz.com/980333/james-comey-fired-here-all-of-the-agencies-still-investigating-trumps-russia-ties-from-the-fbi-to-the-senate-to-the-cia/.  There are a lot of them:  both the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch are at least nominally trying to get as much information as they can about the Trump-Russia connections.  In addition to the now infamous FBI investigation, there are also investigations underway by the CIA, the U.S. Treasury Department and the Department of Defense.  In Congress, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees each have their own investigations, as does the House Oversight Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Thanks to all of these investigations, as well as dogged investigative reporting by the Washington Post and the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and others, the whole world has now heard, seen or read detailed, corroborated and damning evidence of collusion, deception, manipulation, mendacity and hubris. We have heard from the President’s own mouth that he fired Comey to get rid of the Russia probe.  We have read from his own Twitter account that he knowingly revealed highly classified information to the Russian Ambassador and Foreign Minister.

And there is plenty of reason to believe that all of what we know is just the tip of the iceberg.  Subpoenas have been issued and documents requested.  People have for months been saying to follow the money, and now the Senate and the Treasury Department seem to be doing just that. http://www.npr.org/2017/05/15/528486988/investigators-looking-into-trump-campaigns-russia-ties-follow-the-money.

But all of this investigation gets us only so far. Who or what is going to hold Trump and his confederates accountable for what we are now learning about? Remember, in our system of government, while both Congress and the Executive Branch have investigatory power, only the Executive Branch has the power to prosecute.  http://profgrose.com/hello-is-there-a-prosecutor-in-the-house/

Take the FBI investigation, for example:  while the acting FBI director Andrew McCabe told Congress last week that he had “sufficient funds and manpower to ensure a thorough investigation,” http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/fbis-russia-investigation/story?id=47346117, it is hard to imagine Trump naming someone to replace Comey who will maintain that level of funds and manpower.  Why bother firing Comey in the first place?

The same holds for the Treasury Department and Defense Department investigations.  Those investigations will presumably continue to consume more and more resources and command more and more involvement by increasingly senior members of the agencies.  It’s only a matter of time — if it hasn’t happened already — before some of Trump’s political appointees find themselves having to decide how to proceed with aspects of these investigations.  What is likely to happen then, in, say, the Treasury Department? Is Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin likely to pursue the investigation with no thought of loyalty or payback to Trump? And if he does, what are the chances that Trump will decide to fire him too? I’d say pretty high.

But let’s say the investigations somehow do continue to their natural next phase and it comes time to refer them to the Justice Department for prosecution, what then? Jeff Sessions, the current Attorney General, has “recused” himself from all aspects of the Trump-Russia probe — though what that recusal actually means is anybody’s guess, given Sessions’ role in the firing of Comey. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/watchdog-group-alleges-sessions-violated-recusal-rule-in-firing-of-comey/2017/05/12/f30370da-374d-11e7-b412-62beef8121f7_story.html

So will Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who has stepped in for Sessions on these matters, refer the FBI or Treasury investigations to a U.S. Attorney for further investigation and prosecution? And if he did, are there any U.S. Attorneys left to engage in such a prosecution?  http://www.salon.com/2017/04/19/justice-department-logjam-jeff-sessions-still-hasnt-replaced-fired-obama-era-u-s-attorneys/

The same holds true for the congressional investigations.  Much has been made of the fact that the Senate has subpoenaed Michael Flynn to turnover documents to the Senate.  But what happens if Flynn refuses to cooperate — which seems likely, says his lawyer, without “assurances against unfair prosecution.”  http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/31/politics/michael-flynn-lawyer-statement/.  Then Senate leaders would have to decide whether to vote to hold him in contempt — which, given McConnell’s desire for “less drama” seems unlikely, to say the least. But even if the Senate were to hold Flynn — or any other witness, for that matter — in contempt, the matter then would go to the Justice Department for a decision about whether to file criminal charges.  http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/15/flynn-senate-subpoena-russia-trump-238404.   And that decision would have to be made by, you guessed it, the Attorney General’s office.

We have three branches of government.  The investigatory power of the Executive and Legislative Branches seems to be starting to gain some steam — though in fits and starts to be sure, and certainly with no promise of sustained momentum.  It is essential that we keep up the pressure on all the relevant players in those investigations — House, Senate, Democrats, Republicans — letting them know that we care about this stuff, that we want to get to some understanding of the scope of this national crisis.

But that’s not all.  The prosecutorial and enforcement powers of our government remain shackled for any number of reasons — blind loyalty, fear of retribution, cynical self-interest, loyalty to another government, who knows? Whether for stupid or nefarious reasons, the people who could be moving these matters along are choosing not to.

In a much anticipated and discussed episode of Saturday Night Live, Mikey Day appears as subservient Paul Ryan in kitchen garb, serving Alec Baldwin’s Trump two scoops of ice cream.  http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/05/saturday-night-live-melissa-mccarthy-alec-baldwin-donald-trump-paul-ryan.  In MaddowBlog the next day, Steve Benen wrote:  “The risk for Ryan isn’t limited to the mockery we saw on Saturday night. It also includes historical ignominy for the ages – he’ll be remembered as the Speaker who cravenly looked the other way in the face of a serious presidential scandal – and an electoral backlash, as Americans take stock of who enabled Trump’s offenses and who stood on principle. http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/paul-ryan-carries-fig-leaf-the-emperor-no-clothes?cid=eml_mra_20170515

Indeed.  Nobody knows how or when this will end.  And it looks like we common folk, who have been standing along the parade route screaming and pointing for months now, are going to have to be the ones to take this naked Emperor and his Henchmen down.

Keep paying attention.