Sunday, December 25, 2022
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Merry Christmas to all. You’d think Washington, DC, would be quiet and, “all is calm, all is bright,” the week before Christmas. It was anything but that. I can’t recall in all my years of covering the Nation’s Capital, where there would be such a pre-holiday frenzy, but there was. It has a lot to do with the transition of power in the U.S. House. I am on the road in Florida looking at the political landscape here, but let’s “brunch” on the events of this past week.
“Trump Criminal Referral” – It was not a surprise. The January 6th Committee in the House made four criminal referrals to the U.S. Justice Department for former President Donald Trump. These are recommendations, not indictments, and have no force of law. It’s just an opinion. The Justice Department has no obligation to move forward, or not. It is historic, as no ex-president has ever been referred for a criminal prosecution, but there is a first for everything.
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“The Hunter Biden Quandary” – A lot of people, (especially Republicans), are going to be asking: if the Justice Department prosecutes Donald Trump, will it also prosecute presidential son Hunter Biden? Yes, the circumstances and issues in each case are very different, but too many it may come down to the mutual concern about abuse of power and obstruction. Yes, we have an “oranges to apples” comparison here. A lot of Republicans, even many who don’t support Trump are behind him, feeling the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid crossed a line. This is going to be a weird dance. Remember Trump’s 2024 campaign declaration, “I am a victim!” It will be a big theme going forward.
“January 6th Report” – Late Thursday night, the January 6th Committee issued its 845-page final report. Among its recommendations, is that former President Trump be barred from holding public office in the future. The report clearly puts the blame for the Capitol riot in Trump’s lap, saying, “That evidence has led to an overriding and straightforward conclusion: the central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, whom many others followed. None of the events of January 6th would have happened without him.”
“Can They Really Ban Him from Office” – When the report first came out my gut reaction was, “Can they do that?” My research quickly led me to a little-known provision in the U.S. Constitution that says an individual who has taken an oath to support the US Constitution but has “engaged in an insurrection” or given “aid or comfort to the enemies of the Constitution” can be disqualified from office. It appears Congress would have to take that vote, but with Republicans about to take control of the House, the prospects are iffy. One of the criminal referrals to the Justice Department accuses Trump of insurrection, but again there’s no certainty charges will ever be filed.
“Other Report Nuggets” – Several news outlets this week reported that former Trump White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified privately, that a top White House lawyer told her to “downplay” her recollections of what President Trump was doing the day of the January 6th riot at the Capitol. And she testified that an attorney representing her at no cost told her, “The less you remember, the better,” during her committee testimony. Now I am not a lawyer, but I’ve spent enough time in courtrooms to know that suborning perjury, obstructing justice, and witness tampering are big no-nos. Keep an eye on this story, as it has legs.
“Pence Reaction” – Former Vice-president Mike Pence, who has had a very public, and bitter falling out with his old boss, thinks the criminal referral is overboard. “I don’t know that it’s criminal to take bad advice from lawyers,” Pence said, disagreeing that Trump should be charged criminally. He called Trump’s behavior “reckless” but not criminal. An angry mob at the Capitol that day chanted, “Hang Mike Pence” and came within yards of reaching him. Pence who was in extreme danger, believes in the peaceful transition of power, not just on that day, but ahead. He is seriously considering challenging Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.
“Trump’s Taxes” – On Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to release six years of Donald Trump’s tax returns. With the House changing hands to Republican control on January 3rd, it was the Democrats’ last chance to toss a grenade at the ex-president. Lawmakers also revealed that Trump paid nothing in tax in 2020, $558,000 in tax in 2019, $5.3 million in tax in 2018 and nothing again in 2017. This issue cuts both ways. Wealthy people can hire good accountants to take perfectly legal deductions and loopholes offered by the tax code. On the other hand, your average blue-collar worker who carries a lunch bucket to work, (not to mention who pays taxes), is likely to be incensed. Bottom line, I don’t think it really damages Trump politically in the long haul.
“Zelensky’s in Town” – As all this internal U.S. politics played out, there came an external force. Ukraine President Vladimir Zelensky came to Washington, DC for an Oval Office visit and a speech before a joint session of Congress. “Your money is not charity. It is an investment,” he told Congress, which approved another 48 billion dollars in U.S. aid.
“Border Security – Title 42” — One of the Trump era legacies still in play is Title 42, which intended to return anyone who breached the Southern Border illegally, to be repatriated to Mexico and Central American countries. It was born out of concerns during COVID-19, that the migrants could spread illness in this country. When President Biden was sworn into office, he promised to get rid of it. But 19 states objected and filed suit and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. For now, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a stay until the full court can hear the case. So, the Title 42 deportations can continue, but given the White House objections, we’ll see. Executive branch agencies may be likely inclined to defer.
“The Final Count: — Finally, all races have been counted in the U.S. House of Representatives. Come January, there will be 222 Republicans and 213 Democrats. Many presume that means Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) California is the new House Speaker. But hold your bets. There is a rump group of Republicans that want an alternate choice. The caucus must vote by January 3, so stay tuned. My bet is that McCarthy will prevail.
Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the seven Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and the entire Washington, DC media market. He is also a MINDSETTER™ contributing political writer and analyst for www.GoLocalProv.com and its affiliates.
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