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If Trump takes the Fifth, what do Dems do?

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Let’s say that in the end Trump has no choice but to sit down with Mueller. Despite his current P.R. campaign, mouthed through the reptilian Giuliani, that he can’t be forced to testify, he can pardon himself, he can’t be subpoenaed, and so on, all of that silliness collapses, because the only people dumb enough (or cynical enough) to believe it are his low-information base and corrupt politicians like Devin Nunes. So this push to exonerate himself comes to naught, as well it should.

What then? Trump finds himself getting his fat ass dragged in front of Mueller, or perhaps in front of a Grand Jury, where he’s asked all sorts of embarrassing questions. Why did you fire Comey? Why did you tell Donald Jr. to write that letter? What about that Trump Tower meeting? And he can’t truthfully answer, because if he did, the path to obstruction of justice (and possibly collusion) is wide open for a prosecutor. So he replies with those infamous words:

I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me.

Now, those are the same words Trump once called “the refuge of mobsters,” adding, If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” But that was then; this is now, and for a corrupt, mob-connected liar like Trump, consistency is not something he’s concerned with.

So what happens when he takes the Fifth?

Rightwing media, like Fox and Rush Limbaugh, hate covering anything that reflects badly on Trump. In fact, they usually don’t. There could be earth-shattering news about another Trump lie, or  another Trump firing, or another woman coming forward saying Trump molested her, but if you turn on Fox, they’ll be having some Republican hack attacking Hilary Clinton.

But if Trump takes the Fifth even Fox is going to have to report on it. Their guests will include Giuliani, who will assure the base that the Fifth Amendment was designed by the Founding Fathers to protect innocent victims, like his client Trump, from vindictive, politically-inspired witch hunts like Mueller’s. This is correct, in a sense—the Founders did wish to protect ordinary citizens from an over-zealous government. But if a Democratic President were to be in a similar situation to Trump’s and take the Fifth, you can imagine the howls of outrage that would erupt from Republicans. And besides, the Founders would be aghast that a President would invoke the Fifth in order to protect himself against criminal prosecution in which a mountain of evidence points towards “guilty.”

Giuliani is right, though, when he argues that, ultimately, this is going to come down to Impeachment, which is not really a legal process but a political one. The American people are the ultimate jury, Giuliani says, and they are the ones who will transmit their verdict to their elected representatives: The House members who vote to impeach and the Senators who conduct the actual trial.

And so “the education of the electorate” is currently underway, in preparation for that day. Trump has been a busy little bee for months, talking about witch hunts and unfairness, prepping his base to rise up if Mueller should force the issue. Democrats have been a little late to the party. There is no organized Democratic effort, the way there is an organized Republican effort, with their amen chorus and echo chamber. Instead, Democrats are depending on the generalized anger at Trump that their party feels. Democrats are leaving it to individual candidates to frame Trump-related issues: some call for impeachment, some actively advise against it, and most are silent, as they test the waters and await further developments.

There has been little, if any, Democratic discussion over what to do when Trump takes the Fifth. That reticence should end now. The official Democrat stance out to be a united and strong denunciation of such a move: No Democrat should be able to support Trump, and if one does, he or she ought immediately be put in the crosshairs of a recall.

Democrats, too, should already be having private conversations with their Republican friends in the Congress. Not all Republicans are insane; some actually love their country, believe in the rule of law, and hate seeing a rogue President running amok over the Constitution. With a few exceptions (Flake, McCain), however, most Republicans remain silent, but in Congress, and particularly in the Senate, friendship and collegial relationships count for a lot. Senators like Dianne Feinstein, who are respected on both sides, ought to be sitting with their Republican colleagues and speak from the heart, asking them, frankly, what their children and grandchildren will think of them if Trump takes the Fifth and they say nothing. There are some Republican Senators who are so far gone, so corrupt and intimidated and power-hungry, that they will allow Trump to do anything. But I think and hope that others, maybe not a majority but a sizable number, would stand up to Trump, along with Democrats, and figure out some way to stop Trump that’s not merely symbolic (a resolution of disapproval) but real and effectual. Of course, if Democrats retake either or both Houses this November, the task of stopping Trump will be much simpler, but Democrats need to start planning on what to do if the Houses remain Republican, and those private conversations should certainly be happening now.

 

 

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