Biden's natural inclination is to avoid conflict and paper over problems-- even the most existential-- unless he is pushed really hard. He has made it clear that he very much wants move on from the Trump scandals without prosecuting the most norm-breaking criminal occupant of the White House ever-- and likely an illegitimate president at that. Instead of the damnatio memoriae Trump has earned, Biden would much rather forgive and forget and pretend everything will then go back to "normal." Philip Bump described part of that "normal" in his Washington Post column today: "Since Election Day, Trump’s stretch goal has been a second term in office: unlikely but, hey, who knows? The immediate and attainable goal, on the other hand, is simpler. Trump wants to be able to spend the rest of his days insisting that he didn’t actually lose the 2020 election. He wants to march around Mar-a-Lago and have people nod as he grumps that President-elect Joe Biden committed unidentified crimes which denied him a second term in office."
Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a deadly serious constitutional scholar, has a very different view of prosecuting Trump. Earlier today he asked me a simple question: "if a president committed murders or rapes in office, would anyone really argue he shouldn’t be prosecuted afterwards for his crimes? Why should tax fraud, bribery, real estate fraud, or embezzlement be any different? But this is not a political call to be made by a new President; it is a legal call to be made by the Department of Justice and state prosecutors. The idea that it should be up to the new President is the residue of Trump’s poisoning of the traditional idea of prosecutorial independence from politicians. There should be no immunity or impunity that attaches to current or former presidents."
I asked nearly a dozen members of Congress and few wanted to be quoted on the record. Another one who did though is Jim Himes (D-CT). He said he think that "most people in the caucus recognize what is true, which is that as a nation of laws, we need to hold lawbreakers accountable, but that we need to be careful about starting us down a road of prosecuting an outgoing administration as a matter of course. I personally believe that we should charge and prosecute members of the Trump administration when there is a clear, publicly-understandable crime with high probability of conviction. People probably have different lines. I do feel adamant that Congress must hold EVERYONE who showed contempt of congress by ignoring subpoenas or document requests accountable. That's important to the authority of the Congress. I also think it's important that our society speak, and reject those who contributed to Trump's political push of the nation to autocracy. No cushy fellowships at Brookings, no remunerative lobbying jobs, etc..."
Another perspective was put forward by one of Congress' wittiest members: "I dunno Howie. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while in prison, right?" He should have allowed me to use his name, don't you think?
Another member said it was a big topic that he's still pondering. "On the one hand-- nail the crooks. On the other hand-- end of our long national nightmare." Trump won his district in 2016 and, I think, almost won it this year."
Alan Grayson was one of Congress' shining stars when he represented Orlando. This evening, he told me that "One of the greatest threats to democracy is a loss of accountability. If we reach the point when leaders are not accountable for success or failure, then many people will conclude that there is no point in voting, and democracy will be 'a shining artifact of the past,' as Leonard Cohen put it. In so many ways-- children in cages, forced hysterectomies, open support for racism/sexist/homophobia, slavishly serving Russian interests in exchange for election support, using public funds to try bribe Ukraine into taking out his opponent, relentlessly stuffing public and campaign funds into his own pocket, pathological lying, the blood of 250,000 Americans on his hands, etc., etc.-- Trump’s horrifying misconduct in office far exceeds that of virtually anyone who actually is in prison. To the extent that Trump ALSO is convicted of crimes for which anyone else would be prosecuted, of course he has to be punished, or it will be the ultimate proof that 'the System' doesn’t work. But, honestly, the only fair treatment for Trump would be deportation to Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell."