Without even waiting to see if the New York City District Attorney’s office issues an indictment against former President Donald Trump, House Republicans, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, made a complex situation even more complicated by calling for investigations of prosecutor Alvin Bragg to determine “if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by interfering in elections with politically motivated prosecutions.”
Even as the GOP denounced Bragg’s anticipated indictment as a “weaponization” of prosecutorial power, House Democrats levelled precisely the same charge at McCarthy for “weaponizing” the investigatory powers available to the new Republican majority.
This exercise in dueling weaponizations is not good for the country, for the reputation of the Congress (already at an anemic 18 percent), or for the GOP, which has been struggling to articulate a substantive agenda with which to widen its majority in the 2024 election cycle.
None of this is to disagree with the Republican criticism of what the New York D.A. is doing, which may indeed turn out to be a politically motivated prosecution, but neither I nor McCarthy have seen the evidence presented to the Big Apple grand jury. If it returns an indictment of Trump, the burden will be on Bragg to show the public – and eventually a judge and jury – that the charges are based on solid evidence reflective of serious public interest. If Bragg fails in this task, he will have only boosted Trump’s image as a victim and destroyer of the Establishment.
But, jumping to the conclusion that the still-unrevealed indictment is not only without substantive merit but also somehow rendered in violation of federal laws as would give the House Judiciary or Oversight committees jurisdiction to launch investigations, truly is a “bridge too far.”
I have some experience in handling political charges of “prosecutorial misconduct,” having been on the receiving end of such accusations from both Republicans and Democrats during my tenure as United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990. During my time as a federal prosecutor, my office investigated and prosecuted both prominent Democrat and Republican office holders, which led members of both political parties to level accusations of political animus against me and the office – notwithstanding the ultimate successes of those prosecutions.
While such accusations are not unexpected and tend to come with the territory, calling for congressional investigations of a local prosecutor without any apparent basis other than disagreement with his possible motivation — and in advance of his actually issuing formal charges – undercuts the credibility of congressional oversight more broadly.
Adding fuel to that partisan fire, are calls by other Trump supporters for Ron DeSantis, as governor of the state in which Trump resides, to delay or otherwise thwart the prosecutor’s effort to have the former president extradited if he were to fight being brought to the Empire State to answer formal charges.
While such a move by DeSantis might momentarily win him the affection of some Trump supporters, it would be seen correctly by virtually everyone else as a naked political maneuver. The reality is that DeSantis, like virtually every other state governor, exercises extradition power as a ministerial duty rather than as a tool to challenge the substance of the charges themselves. Injecting himself into the legal processes Trump would face if New York does indict him, would benefit DeSantis not a whit, and would do him great harm, politically and legally.
DeSantis already has lent his voice to other GOP figures in calling Bragg’s investigation and perhaps imminent indictment of Trump a politically motivated prosecution, but he has wisely refrained from going further.
As Trump’s main rival for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, DeSantis knows that whatever he does (or doesn’t do), the former president will come back at him with vicious personal attacks. In fact, Trump did precisely that on Monday after the Florida Governor, while criticizing the New York prosecutor’s investigation of Trump as “political,” also made an indirect reference to the hush-money payments apparently at the center of the New York prosecutor’s investigation.
The mud swamp into which Trump pulls anybody trying to play his game on his terms rarely, if ever, benefits anyone other than Trump. The sooner the GOP and its key players understand this, the better off they will be.