The lede in this Axios report from Saturday afternoon might’ve seemed outlandish, but it was an accurate summary of a curious development on Capitol Hill.
Top House Republicans said in a letter Saturday that they’re considering legislation to “protect” current and former presidents from “politically motivated prosecutions” in response to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s investigation into former President Trump.
Let’s briefly review how we arrived at this moment, because the circumstances — which continue to unfold fairly quickly — have become increasingly bizarre.
It was just nine days ago when Donald Trump predicted his looming arrest in New York, based on weird assumptions that had no real basis in fact. The former president’s guess, we now know, turned out to wrong.
Nevertheless, within hours of Trump’s declaration, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy didn’t just voice his support for the former president, the California Republican also directed House committee chairs to investigate the work of the Manhattan district attorney’s office. A week ago this morning, they followed those directions: Three powerful GOP chairs — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer of Kentucky, and House Administration Committee Chairman Bryan Steil of Wisconsin — wrote to Bragg, seeking, among other things, his congressional testimony.
It was a difficult move to defend. The local prosecutor hadn’t filed charges; there was no evidence of the district attorney engaging in any wrongdoing; no one on Capitol Hill has any idea whether Bragg has a strong case against Trump or not, and the grand jury proceedings remained underway. There was simply no sensible justification for congressional leaders interfering with the case. Jordan, Comer, and Steil did it anyway. (They also sought information from former prosecutors who worked with Bragg.)
The general counsel for the Manhattan DA’s office wrote back to the GOP congressmen, denounced their request, and effectively told them to pound sand.
That, in turn, led the congressional Republicans to write yet another letter, this one sent on Saturday, defending their crusade. Not surprisingly, Bragg dismissed their latest missive, too, though the specific details in the chairmen’s correspondence were striking.
“[W]e believe that we now must consider whether Congress should take legislative action to protect former and/or current Presidents from politically motivated prosecutions by state and local officials, and if so, how those protections should be structured,” the Republicans' letter read.
Democratic Rep. Daniel Goldman of New York, a freshman member of the House Judiciary Committee, noted via Twitter soon after that House Republicans “want to pass a law prohibiting FORMER presidents — regular citizens — from criminal prosecution. I assume they will call it what it is: the Protect Donald Trump Act.”
Some caveats are probably in order. For one thing, such a bill won’t become law, at least so long as Democrats hold some power in Washington, D.C. For another, it’s likely that the committee chairs referenced the possibility of a bill in order to give the appearance of a “legislative purpose” to their endeavor.
In other words, for those concerned about such a legislative effort, it’s probably best to keep the fears in check.
But the fact that three powerful House committee chairs would even raise this as a possibility is stark raving mad. If Republicans want to huff and puff about a former president facing criminal probes, that’s their prerogative. But for Jordan, Comer, and Steil to put in writing that they feel obligated to consider legislation to “protect” former presidents from prosecutions — regardless of the merit of the criminal allegations — shows just how far these GOP lawmakers are prepared to go to shield Trump from the consequences of his actions.
The latest congressional letter told Bragg to respond by March 31. If the local prosecutor balks, as seems likely, members will have to decide whether to subpoena him. Watch this space.