Our Democracy, Dying By A Thousand Cuts
The Trump administration’s assault on our democracy and the rule of law continues unchecked. The most recent assaults range from threatening the arrest of politicians who oppose Trump policies to blatantly lying to Congress to creating some kind of broad executive privilege out of whole cloth to treating federal agencies as despotic fiefdoms. None of these individually may be earth-shattering but, taken together, they are a broad assault on our country’s foundations.
A few days ago, the head of ICE, Trump’s and Chief of Staff Kelly’s mass deportation force, proposed arresting the political leaders of sanctuary cities for the crime of harboring illegal aliens. James Homan said that these politicians “knowingly shield and harbor an illegal alien…That is a violation of 8 USC 1324. That’s an alien-smuggling statute. I’ve asked the Department of Justice to look at this. Can we hold them accountable? Are they violating federal law? We’ve got to take these sanctuary cities on. We’ve got to take them to court and we’ve got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes.”
Apparently, the DOJ is taking Homan’s request to heart. At yesterday’s Senate hearing, current DHS head Kirstjen Nielsen acknowledged that Homan’s idea is being seriously considered. According to Nielsen, “The Department of Justice is reviewing what avenues might be available. The context of this is of course not only putting my [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officers at risk, but also finding an efficient and effective way to enforce our immigration laws.” Of course, arresting political opponents for crimes that they did not commit or were actually committed by others is the go-to tactic of an authoritarian regime.
Speaking of Nielsen, she herself blatantly lied to that Senate committee when she continually claimed she could not remember any specific words from the meeting where Trump called African countries “shitholes”, despite her attendance at that meeting. Nielsen adds to the numerous Trump officials who have gone before Congress and blatantly lied, including four cabinet secretaries who were under oath with the most notorious being current Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Meanwhile, Steve Bannon was over testifying at the House Intelligence Committee where he once again invoked some kind of amorphous executive privilege in refusing to answer any questions about the Trump transition despite being under oath and subsequently subpoenaed to do so. According to Adam Schiff, Bannon was “was willing to answer our questions but under instructions from the White House not to…This was the first time we saw a witness refuse to answer the questions under the instructions of the White House or claim that the White House might later invoke privilege.” Executive privilege can only be invoked by the President and, as far as we know, that has not been done. So Bannon’s refusal to answer has no real basis in law.
Bannon is not the first Trump official to use this new amorphous privilege to refuse to answer questions from Congress. Jeff Sessions has used it continually in his multiple testimonies before Congress. As Schiff noted, if this “gag order from the White House”, as he called it, were allowed to stand, it would make any Congressional investigations impossible to pursue.
It is pretty clear that Trump would prefer that the President should have near dictatorial powers, as his attacks on the free press and the judiciary have shown. That attitude extends down to his cabinet secretaries and the agencies they control, especially Trump’s Praetorian guard, ICE and CBP. As I have previously noted, ICE clearly refused to obey a court order for a significant time after the Muslim ban was ruled unconstitutional. In the New Yorker, Laura Rosen documents how CBP officers regularly ignore established rules and protocol governing asylum seekers who were “never asked the required questions, or were ignored, mocked, or even sexually propositioned by U.S. agents after expressing their fears — and then deported to harm.”
Our democracy is under attack from without and within. The Russian hacking of our election in 2016 is the external threat, a threat that the Trump administration has done virtually nothing to prevent repeating in 2018 and beyond. The internal threat is posed by the Trump administration itself and the Republican majority in Congress that enables him. The 2018 election may provide on of the last opportunities for Americans to save that democracy and provide oversight and checks on the Trump administration’s trampling of the rule of law. Let’s hope Americans fully understand that opportunity.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on January 17, 2018.