Taking advantage of Donald Trump’s Nov. 15 announcement that he is running for president, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed New York Prosecutor Jack Smith as a special counsel to go after him. Smith is tasked with digging into Trump’s handling of documents seized by the FBI in its armed raid on his Mar-a-Lago estate and Democrats’ charges that he was responsible for the melee at the Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021.
The Democrats have focused their political campaigning on the dangers of Trump and what they call his “semi-fascist” working-class supporters as a way to cover up the failure of the Joseph Biden administration to advance any meaningful course forward for working people.
This is the second special counsel investigation launched at Trump since he was elected in 2016, part of the Democrats’ unending, multipronged assault on him, his family and political associates. Along with the middle-class left and Never-Trump Republicans, they are determined to make the attack on Trump the centerpiece of their 2024 presidential election campaign.
Like all prosecutors under capitalism, Smith won’t start with investigating an actual crime, but with a target to try to bring down. He has the full gamut of state resources to cobble together “evidence” to accomplish that goal, including the rulers’ political police, the FBI. Witch hunts like this are a deadly threat to the working class.
Biden’s Justice Department had been in charge of looking for a way to charge Trump with something. But now Garland claims a so-called independent special counsel is needed so that the Justice Department doesn’t look partisan, since the former president is running with Biden as his potential opponent.
In fact, invoking a special counsel with virtually unlimited powers is a step up in the Democrats’ witch hunt. Federal law ensures such a special prosecutor is even harder to rein in than any probe by the attorney general himself.
The danger of such special counsels was addressed in 1988 by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissenting opinion in a case that upheld the law authorizing appointment of independent counsels. Invoking an independent counsel against the president makes the occupant of that office and his associates appear “in all probability” as “‘crooks,’” Scalia wrote, opening them up to “massive and lengthy investigations.” This, he showed, was a violation of executive powers designated to the president in the Constitution.
That’s exactly what the last special counsel, Robert Mueller, did for nearly two years after he was appointed to go after Trump in 2017, on the false pretext he was “in collusion” with Moscow. At the inquiry’s conclusion, neither Trump nor any U.S. citizen was charged with colluding with Moscow.
But Mueller’s operations continuously fed Democrats’ attacks on Trump and did lead to indicting more than 30 people, many connected to Trump, on unrelated matters. In violation of the Constitution’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure, Mueller unleashed FBI raids on the homes and offices of Trump’s advisers. In every case the aim was to lean on them in an effort to get someone to finger Trump, as well as perpetuate the slander that the president and his associates were Kremlin agents.
For working people, the stakes involved in the conflict have nothing to do with the clashes riling the right and left of capitalist politics, but entail assaults on constitutional freedoms that are crucial for our struggles. This question is at the center of politics today.
Democrats lead assaults on freedoms
Trump-backed candidates in 2022 repelled more working people than they attracted in most races, especially when they campaigned on his widely discredited claim that the 2020 election was stolen. With Republicans unable to take advantage of the unpopularity of the Biden administration, more of them are now pushing for the party to repudiate Trump. Former Attorney General William Barr urged Trump to “stand aside” from the 2024 race, alleging the Justice Department “probably have the basis for legitimately indicting the president.”
Many other Democratic Party efforts to turn Trump and his associates into criminals continue. Jesse Benton, a Republican campaign operative, was convicted Nov. 17 on charges of facilitating a contribution to Trump’s 2016 campaign by Roman Vasilenko, a Russian businessman. Vasilenko gave Benton $100,000 for a ticket to a fundraiser in order to get himself photographed with Trump. He also hoped to get his picture taken with Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
Since Republicans won a razor-thin House majority, they plan to ape the actions of the Democrats and launch a series of partisan congressional probes to subpoena witnesses to go after the Biden administration. James Comer, incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, said he plans a raft of congressional inquiries, including digging into the business dealings of Biden’s son, Hunter, to find out if the president “is compromised or swayed by foreign dollars.”
None of the efforts of the capitalists’ two main parties to use congressional hearings and criminal probes against their bourgeois political opponents is good for working people. Regardless of who is targeted, the methods deployed will inevitably be used to go after the labor movement and its vanguard. Free speech, freedom of association and many other conquests enshrined in the Constitution are essential for working people whenever we use our unions or engage in political activity.
Closely tied to the Democrat-led assaults on constitutional freedoms is the rulers’ efforts to refurbish the standing of the FBI. In the 1960s and ’70s, efforts like the Socialist Workers Party’s lawsuit against the FBI exposed the true character of the rulers’ political police and its spying and disruption and weakened its credibility. The Democrats are trying to strengthen it in preparation for use against working-class battles to come.
It’s useful to remember that just before the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, the spy outfit raided the offices of leaders of the African People’s Socialist Party, a Black rights organization, in St. Petersburg, Florida, and St. Louis. Then it began harassing opponents in Puerto Rico of Washington’s economic war against Cuba’s socialist revolution.
Working people should oppose all these blows against constitutional rights.