There Will Be Much To Clean Up

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post has some ideas about cleaning up the mess after Biden becomes president (in addition to reinstating regulations and international agreements that didn’t survive this administration’s assault):

From July:

Former vice president Joe Biden has said that if elected, he would not pardon President Txxxx for any alleged crimes. As a political matter, that makes perfect sense; as a legal matter, it smartly leaves options open.

As much as I would love to see the federal government prosecute Txxxx for potential crimes in office, I fear that criminally prosecuting a predecessor would be so destructive and fraught with peril that it would outweigh any added benefits. (If Txxxx committed financial crimes unrelated to his official acts in office, that is another matter.)

That still leaves open what Biden, if he becomes president, should do regarding Txxxx. I would suggest two main goals.

The first goal should be a complete historical accounting of the reams of scandals and abuses of power in the Txxxx era. We usually leave it “to history” to review a presidency, but here we need a swift and definitive legal accounting on issues such as any secret understandings with Russian President Vladimir Putin; the use of federal forces against peaceful demonstrators; the limitations imposed on the FBI in investigating Brett M. Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing; the firings of inspectors general and more. (I would not recommend redoing the Russia and Ukraine investigations, although coming to a conclusion where then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III would not — on whether Txxxx committed crimes — may be required.)

The second goal should be to investigate crimes by others so as to prosecute them and set an example for future administrations. My suggestion would be for Biden’s attorney general to announce on his or her first day in office that everyone in the Justice Department has two weeks to deliver any evidence of crimes or ethical violations by anyone in the department, up to and including the attorney general. Anyone who does not may themselves be the subject of investigation and prosecution. We need a full fumigation of the Justice Department in particular; only when we know who did what can we go about repairing its reputation.

The model for accomplishing this must not allow the administration to be preoccupied with Txxxx. The ideal setup could be a body similar to the 9/11 Commission that could oversee the entire undertaking with subpoena power and an appropriate budget. As was the case with the 9/11 Commission, this one should be co-chaired by one respected Democrat and one respected Republican (or one Republican-appointed judge and a Democratic counterpart). Given the number of areas of concern, there would need to be investigative teams devoted to separate, agreed-upon topics (e.g., one looking at the Txxxx-Putin relationship, one at misuse of law enforcement, one at illegal directives to department heads on immigration). Set a deadline (a year or two?), and let them do their work.

No one in the administration thereafter should answer any questions or make any comments about the entire undertaking; instead, the new administration must go about the business of governing the country. At the end of the investigative process, a report should be published that includes the findings of each team. If Txxxx has not yet been prosecuted at the state level, the door remains open for Biden to authorize prosecution, but the main task of determining what occurred and who did what will be settled. (Biden should also ask for a recommendation on whether to change Justice Department guidelines that prevent prosecution of a sitting president.)

Biden’s team would do well to think through this now so a decision can be announced after November, if he wins. The transition after the election should not get sidetracked from the normal task of setting up an administration. In any case, a truth commission may be key to preventing a Txxxx-type presidency from occurring again.

From August:

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has plans for the economy, green energy, fighting the coronavirus pandemic and much more if he wins in November. But while pursuing all that once in office, he would also need to clear the decks from the Txxxx administration. We have discussed the issue of prosecuting President Txxxx — let the New York district attorney work his will and set up a truth commission to explore wrongdoing among Txxxx administration officials — but the issue goes beyond the president’s personal misdeeds.

First, every agency and department should release all documents the Txxxx administration previously withheld from congressional subpoenas. Find them and post them online. Every page. That should set the scene for a transparency initiative from the new administration. Freedom of Information Act requests should be answered promptly. Claims of executive privilege should be asserted only in the most limited circumstances, such as national security. White House logs of who comes and goes should be posted online, as well.

Second, the new administration should vigorously pursue each and every credible charge of perjury committed by administration witnesses over the past four years. Perjury is difficult to prove, but incomplete or misleading testimony to Congress can also be actionable. This should set an example of zero tolerance for lying to Congress.

Third, the Justice Department needs a thorough review of its filings under the Txxxx administration. Did the department lie to any court? Did it improperly withhold documents from any court? There is an ethical obligation to inform courts of any such conduct. The perpetrators, if still at the Justice Department, should be fired and their alleged wrongdoing referred to state bar authorities for professional sanction. (Beyond examining evidence of falsehoods, the department will need an inspector general to review any other cases of professional misconduct, whether in facilitating or ignoring illegal conduct or in allowing political motives to taint investigations or cases.)

Fourth, scientific and other outside boards disbanded by the Txxxx administration and information scrubbed from websites should be restored. Each agency or department should withdraw and/or correct previous publications, studies and reports that did not adhere to the highest standards of scholarship.

These are concrete items a new administration can initiate — and what better time than when one party controls the House, the White House and possibly the Senate? But there is also the power of example. The White House and the president personally set the tone. If the White House press secretary misstates something, he or she should correct the record promptly. All press secretaries are there to emphasize the positive and downplay the negative, but whoever holds that job has a solemn obligation not to intentionally misstate facts. When the press secretary does not know something, say so.

And the president himself should take fact-checking seriously. If he got something wrong, do not repeat the assertion — or at least modify it. When the president gets something wrong, he, too, should correct the record, thereby setting a standard for the entire administration.

No administration is 100 percent candid or factual, but the acceptance of lying as a matter of course, the encouragement to say easily disprovable things, must end. We deserve a president and administration that at least tries to stick to the truth.