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House GOP’s attempt to shut down Alvin Bragg is unlikely to save Trump but could serve despots in training, say oversight experts

Former US President Donald Trump arrives at an event at Mar-a-Lago on April 4, 2023 in West Palm Beach, Florida.Former US President Donald Trump.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

  • Donald Trump’s formal arraignment in Manhattan criminal court sent House Republicans into a tizzy.
  • GOP leaders are rushing to scuttle state prosecutors from ever digging into presidential affairs.
  • “These set precedents,” a former GOP lawmaker told Insider. “And the guardrails continue to erode.”

House Republicans rushing to derail Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against Trump is a stab at the separation of powers that they may live to regret, oversight veterans told Insider. 

The burgeoning campaign to exonerate the embattled former president from 34 counts of falsifying business records — and, by extension, the other swirling investigations into alleged mishandling of classified documents, meddling with Georgia’s 2020 elections, and the deadly January 6, 2021 siege at the US Capitol — flies in the face of lawmakers’ tendency to steer clear of clashes between the executive branch and the courts in order to avoid compromising congressional authority, former Hill staffer Tim Stretton told Insider. 

“Members of Congress have long said, ‘It’s currently in litigation. That’s not our role as legislators, to weigh in on specific cases,'” Stretton, who is now director of the congressional oversight program at the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight, said of historic attempts to ward off any impropriety. 

What’s even more short-sighted, in Stretton’s view, is racing to strip all 50 states of the ability to ever hold any law-breaking POTUS accountable — including future scofflaws who may fall anywhere on the political spectrum  — just because your 2024 frontrunner pines for a get-out-of-jail-free card

“Are they going to automatically be okay with giving them a free pass for the rest of time?” Stretton wondered about House Republicans’ attempt to defang state prosecutors they consider to be political persecutors.  

Following Trump’s historic arraignment, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and GOP Conference chair Elise Stefanik railed online that Bragg must be stopped. 

—Kevin McCarthy (@SpeakerMcCarthy) April 4, 2023

Executing on those vague marching orders is up to House Judiciary Committee chair Jim Jordan and House Oversight Committee chair James Comer, who requested that Bragg come in for questioning before the particulars of Trump’s hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels became public. 

On Thursday Jordan upped the ante by subpoenaing former New York County Special Assistant District Attorney Mark Pomerantz, who resigned in February 2022 over frustrations about Bragg’s handling of other Trump-related probes.

‘Protecting the quarterback’

Then-US President Donald Trump followed by Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California as he steps off Air Force One after returning from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 30, 2020 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.Then-US President Donald Trump followed by Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California as he steps off Air Force One after returning from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 30, 2020 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Republican Rep. Tom Davis, who worked on oversight issues during his tenure in Congress, said the bid to blunt Bragg’s efforts is just the latest example of how no holds barred things have gotten on Capitol Hill.  

“It’s hard to say what overstepping bounds are any more,” Davis told Insider. “Because there are no rules,”  

While he accused both parties of escalating things in recent years, Davis said interfering in ongoing criminal cases is new ground for Congress. But then so is the “novel legal theory” he said Bragg wove together to drag Trump into court. 

“Doesn’t mean it’s wrong. But this is not a widely applied legal theory like you get for larceny or something like that,” Davis said of Bragg’s complicated arguments. “So you can understand people are protecting their quarterback in this case.”

In terms of the evolving pushback, Davis said the courts could dispute Jordan’s arguments for injecting Congress into state-led prosecutions — particularly now that every move either party makes sets dangerous new standards.

He also strongly urged GOP investigators to choose their legal battles wisely — lest they get burned. 

“Obviously, if you go after everybody investigating Trump, that’s a whole different matter,” Davis warned. “These set precedents. And the guardrails continue to erode.”

‘A lot of bluster’

Don Goldberg, a former House staffer for both the House Judiciary and Oversight panels who also served in the Clinton administration, said the preemptive strike against Bragg means House Republicans are now in it for the long haul. 

“When you defend somebody before you’ve even seen the indictment, you’re kind of hitching your wagon to all the investigations,” Goldberg told Insider. “And if they want to defend Donald Trump in the Georgia case or in the documents case, they’re gonna have to fight a multi-front war.” 

He added that trying to haul in Bragg, Pomerantz, or others involved in ongoing Trump investigations is mostly for show, given that House Republicans must know the Department of Justice is never going to back them up.  

“There’s no way to compel testimony without getting the US Attorney’s Office to investigate. Which would never happen,” Goldberg said. “The Justice Department’s gonna say, ‘You’re interfering with an ongoing state criminal activity. We’re not going to do that.’ So I think it’s a lot of bluster.”

Should GOP leaders try to play hardball by zeroing out government funding for state prosecutors like Bragg — as House Judiciary Committee member Andy Biggs of Arizona suggested earlier this week — Goldberg suspects that the corresponding congressional delegations would revolt.  

“If they tried to withhold money from the state of New York, I think the entire New York delegation — Republicans and Democrats — would kind of say, ‘Yeah, we’re not doing that,'” Goldberg predicted. 

Meanwhile, POGO’s Stretton warned that wading into state prosecutions to placate the scandal-plagued former president paves the way for congressional interference in other legal fights. 

“Nothing would stop them from intervening if there’s a friend or an acquaintance in criminal or civil litigation,” Stretton said of the Pandora’s box that’s being opened. 

He added that jumping on every grenade for Trump could very well blow up any chance of ferreting out meaningful reforms from all the other investigations House Republicans have already launched. 

“You’re gonna miss key things that could help produce some really important pieces of legislation to prevent future wrongdoing or mismanagement,” Stretton said of the likelihood of staff stretching themselves too thin. 

He also warned that spotlight-chasing House Republicans risk drowning in unfinished business at the end of the term by floating new Biden-focused inquiries “every couple of weeks.” 

Good luck slowing any of that down, Davis mused. 

“It looks like everything’s tit-for-tat now,” he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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