Washington Post: Adam Schiff’s warning: This is ‘how you see democracies come to an end’

By September 23, 2020 2020 Campaign, Democracy, Good Government

House Democrats released an ambitious new package of legislative reforms on Wednesday. It’s a blueprint for how Democrats intend to prevent any future presidents — including ones from their own party — from corrupting the place as horribly as Trump has done.

Taken together, all the reforms — which include everything from reining in presidential self-dealing to making it harder to evade congressional oversight to strengthening safeguards against foreign electoral interference — stand as a kind of checklist for all the corrupt things Trump himself has gotten away with.

Meanwhile, we’re learning that Trump and his supporters are looking to corrupt the election in new ways, with Trump openly declaring that he’s counting on the Supreme Court to invalidate mail ballots.

How can we make sense of all this corruption? In an interview, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) — the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee — suggested one through line.

“There’s a common denominator,” Schiff told me, “and that is using instruments of power to perpetuate power in an anti-democratic fashion.”

“It’s a ruthless judgment that the preservation of power is the only object,” Schiff continued. “It’s how you see democracies come to an end. And it’s kind of the animating principle of the Trump presidency.”

The blueprint from House Democrats promises reforms to prevent a future president from corruptly manipulating the levers of government to maintain power and serve his own political and personal ends.

It requires more transparency around White House communications with the attorney general. (Trump has relied on William P. Barr to downplay Russian electoral interference and attack vote by mail.) It creates a judicial structure to speed court processing of congressional subpoenas. (Trump has relied on court delays to evade scrutiny of his tax returns and efforts to obstruct the Russian investigation.)

The blueprint also requires political committees to report foreign interference efforts (which Trump has openly invited) and strengthens penalties for violations of the Hatch Act (which Trump appears to have violated, at least in spirit, by using the White House for his convention).

“In the Watergate tradition, we have followed abuses of power with remedies,” Schiff told me. “We will end the den-of-thieves mentality that permeates the current administration.”

Meanwhile, the efforts to corrupt our election are piling up. Not only has Trump telegraphed his hope of using the courts to invalidate “millions” of mail ballots, he’s also relying on governmental allies to create a pretext.

Barr has been relentlessly using his official stature to boost Trump’s lies about vote-by-mail. And this raises the possibility, suggested by former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade, that Barr could actually seek to bring charges against some form of vote fraud close to the election.

If Barr even announced an investigation of some kind into a mail vote fraud plot that investigators “uncovered,” it could give official cover to efforts by the Trump campaign and GOP lawyers to invalidate countless ballots.

“I think it is something to be worried about,” Schiff told me of a potential Barr intervention. “Barr has shown a bottomless capacity to pervert the mission of the Justice Department into serving the president’s illicit ends.”

“Why should anyone have confidence that he wouldn’t announce a bogus investigation into voter fraud to substantiate the president’s bogus allegations?” Schiff asked, noting Barr’s false claims of fraud in mail voting.

Schiff linked this to the GOP plan to ram through a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, using a laughably disingenuous rationale that reveals the rule Republicans created to deny Merrick Garland a hearing in 2016 as pure fraudulence.

“Now we see this crescendo, in an effort by the president to discredit the votes of millions, stack the Supreme Court to disenfranchise millions and perpetuate himself in office [by] enlisting foreign assistance,” Schiff told me.

On still another front, the Atlantic reports that some GOP lawyers are looking for ways to get friendly GOP state legislators to appoint electors regardless of the popular vote.

All this raises a question: Are House Democrats sufficiently using their powers to push back right now against all these efforts to corrupt the election?

For instance, wouldn’t impeaching Barr send a message to the country that something extraordinary is happening, priming voters to fully grasp the depth of cheating that’s going on if and when Trump does try to foment a major national crisis around the results?

Schiff told me there’s some worry that impeaching Barr might be perceived as overly partisan, even if serious censure is justified, and perhaps backfire against its intended goal.

But he allowed that the question of how to prime the public on all this cheating is a legitimately tough one, and noted that the House’s primary role right now should be maximizing “exposure” of all this serial “misconduct.”

“Given that one of the two parties is a willing accomplice of the president, there are real limits to what the Congress can do,” Schiff told me.

There will be “no end to the infamy,” Schiff also said, “except if voters turn out in such massive numbers that there’s a landslide repudiation of Trump and Trumpism.”

This piece was originally published in the Washington Post.