Look no further than Steve Bannon, soon to be held in contempt for treating a subpoena from the select committee investigating the attack like an invitation to a garden party he could not so respectfully decline. He’s thumbing his nose at the law and playing the odds that he can play out the clock.
In that, he’s got a singular role model in his old boss, Donald Trump, who tied up hundreds of small businessmen in court for years until they caved in under an avalanche of nuisance motions or went out of business, or both.
And there’s the example of those who came to work for Trump and learned the art of his deal, like former White House Counsel Don McGahn. He resisted a 2019 court order to testify before Congress until Trump was tanning in Florida. By then, McGahn was permitted to give limited testimony behind closed doors that had its intended effect, which was none.
McGahn’s resistance raises the tantalizing question that attaches to Trump’s posse: Were they always scofflaws, or did they become that way under his influence? McGahn was both. He knew what he was getting into; he had two uncles who worked at Trump’s casinos, one of whom Trump sued for alleged overbilling. If that wasn’t a clue to what he was getting into, what would be?
For his walk on the wild side, McGahn’s character took a hit, but not his modest career. He ended up plying his trade back at his old firm, Jones Day, famous for representing questionable characters like Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, whose Washington mansion was raided by the FBI last Tuesday. Steve Mnuchin, another of Trump’s artful dodgers whose character deteriorated further in his service, used his position to get sanctions on the Putin puppet lifted, but to no avail.
In addition to Bannon—who wasn’t even a member of the administration after he was fired as chief of staff for boasting too much and leaking to Michael Wolff—Trump also told three other aides to blow off subpoenas: Twitter ghostwriter and golf caddy Dan Scavino, Devin Nunes sycophant turned White House Ukraine adviser Kash Patel, and the last surviving chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
The default response of all Trumpettes is to stonewall, no matter the charge, the incontrovertible evidence, or tapes—there’s almost always a tape. Roger Stone, who practiced omerta for years, expected and received a pardon, but most just realized that if they knew what was good for them, they’d keep their mouths shut.
Corey Lewandowski, who arrived in Trump’s orbit in 2014, quickly became famous for swinging first and asking questions later, and was even charged with battery after manhandling a reporter who asked Trump a question he didn’t like. He did Trump’s dirty work to push out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, before all but stonewalling the House Judiciary committee in an act of blatant contempt. Trump loved Lewandowski so much he put him in charge of his PAC before putting the thug on ice after he was accused of inappropriately touching not just anyone but a wealthy donor. That’s not good for business. Lewandowski then reportedly tried to squeeze a six-figure payment from Trump in exchange for going quietly.
We like to think otherwise but while in office, Trump and his crew were above the law. The Founding Fathers didn’t picture an outlaw, whose career was built on staying one step ahead of the sheriff, in the White House. Nor that his grift and lies would continue beyond his term to the point where more than half his party thinks he’s president.
Our system of government makes no distinction between a bad president and a good one, the enormous powers of the office run to both, including command of the nuclear codes, a bubble of perks that would suit a king, protections like executive privilege—which is a chronic liar’s dream— and immunity from prosecution.
Impeachment is asymmetric warfare, a knife in a gunfight. If not, Trump would have been tried and convicted after his first summit in Helsinki when he said he trusted Vladimir Putin more than his own government. It was just more of the same when this week he danced on the grave of Gen. Colin Powell, whose shiny black shoes he isn’t fit to polish.
As to Bannon, he’s just a minnow, significant only because his contempt charge shows the committee is willing to fight its way up the food chain. For all that’s happened, not one big fish, including the great white whale of Mar-a-Lago, has had to pay for his crimes against humanity. In that, they’re helped by large legal defense funds, lawyers without scruples, tactics that freeze the ball, and an attorney general in Merrick Garland who, like Special Counsel Robert Mueller, plays by the rules of a time gone by. He obviously hasn’t, but should remember that if Republicans played by any rules he would be Justice Garland, not AG Garland.
Lost in the Bannon drama was Trump himself, stripped of executive privilege, forced to testify under oath for the first time this week. He was deposed in a lawsuit in which the plaintiffs contend they were injured by security guards carrying out a crackdown on protesters lowering property values in front of Trump Tower in 2015. His explanation of what happened, so help him God, is now on the record to be weighed against that of his employees. If it goes to trial, who will the jury believe: the guards likely doing what they were told to under threat of being kicked to the curb or the former president, a chronic prevaricator, who’s lied about everything from the size of his inaugural crowd to COVID being no worse than the flu to his current whopper about how he’s still the rightful president?
This won’t be the last time Trump testifies if Liz Cheney persists, Garland realizes the extent of the lawlessness, and cowed Republican leaders see that the ransom Trump extracts for not kneecapping gets higher by the hour. The time will arrive when country’s former chief executive will be asked, What did you know and when did you know it? Was it before your followers got a tour of the Capitol tunnels, before “tourists” ordered insurrection T-shirts celebrating the MAGA Civil War January 6, 2021 to wear at the rampage, before the plans were all over social media?
Before you answer, Mr. Trump, the court would like to remind you that the meaning of before is not subject to debate, and that you are under oath.