On 17 November, 10 days after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, as Donald Trump launched a spurious legal challenge to overturn the results, congressman Bill Pascrell demanded that the president’s entire administration be investigated and tried for its crimes.
“If Joe Biden meant what he said, and I have no reason to believe he doesn't, that this election is for the very soul of our democracy, then damn it, we can’t just leave it out there,” the New Jersey congressman told The Independent.
“We may need to say and believe we need unity right now – which is absolutely correct – but if we leave these things to history, the record of history may be different years from now than what we just went through in four years.”
On 20 November, he filed legal complaints in five states against the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and 22 other lawyers, demanding they be disbarred for filing what he called frivolous lawsuits and “trying to help Trump steal the election and dismantle democracy.”
“The pattern of behaviour by these individuals to effectuate Mr Trump’s sinister arson is a danger not just to our legal system but is also unprecedented in our national life,” he wrote.
The 83-year-old Democrat dismissed GOP “fascist wannabes” who backed a House resolution to censure him for it.
“Those supporting this pathetic resolution are complicit in Trump's attempt to become a dictator,” he said.
Congressman Pascrell, who handily defeated Republican challenger Billy Prempeh on 3 November to secure his 13th term representing New Jersey, will return to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which determines the party’s legislative agenda, and continue to chair the House Ways and Means Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee, where he has led efforts over the past several years pressuring lawmakers to obtain the president’s tax returns to uncover the depth of his self-dealing and conflicts of interest.
He has accused the president and allies of committing innumerable crimes against the US, from endangering national security to ripping families apart and engaging in treachery and treason.
“Therefore, in 2021 the entire Trump administration must be fully investigated by the Department of Justice and any other relevant offices,” he said. “Donald Trump along with his worst enablers must be tried for their crimes against our nation and Constitution.”
In the crucial weeks ahead, as the president continues to undermine the results of the election and strong-arm state officials to stage an electoral college coup against the will of the voters, the congressman said he had a responsibility to uncover the president’s malfeasance.
“Nobody is above the law,” he said. “It’s easy to say – it comes out of your mouth pretty easily – but are you prepared to uphold the principle? What are you prepared to do?”
Congressman Pascrell was a two-term mayor of Paterson, New Jersey, the state’s third-largest city. Before that, he was a high school teacher, adjunct university professor, and member of the US army and Army Reserve.
He was elected to congress in 1996, defeating the one-term Republican incumbent by a slim margin, and has remained in office since, holding the safely Democrat seat through 12 more elections and beating Republican challengers with more than 62 per cent of the vote each time.
In office, he has grown routinely and vocally frustrated with stagnant congressional Democrats, from deals with special interests during debate over the Affordable Care Act to an apparent refusal to hold former Republican vice president Dick Cheney accountable in the aftermath of the George W Bush administration.
He has endorsed the Green New Deal, stepping into a role as an older ally alongside progressive freshman lawmakers; last year, he shared an article on Twitter from satirical news website The Onion (“82-Year-Old New Jersey Congressman Bill Pascrell Quietly Asks Ilhan Omar If He Can Be Part Of The Squad”) and asked, “Well. How bout it?” (New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez replied: “You’re in”).
In February 2017, he filed the first of more than two dozen letters, motions, amendments and other moves to force the Ways and Means chair to obtain the president’s tax records and to investigate Trump’s financial state, including dozens of financial holdings, whether state-owned companies are involved with his Trump Organisation, and whether they are paying rents and licensing agreements to his empire, which has earned millions of dollars since taking office.
Following The New York Times’ series revealing the president’s years of tax avoidance, including paying just $750 in tax in 2017 and 2018 and no taxes at all within 10 of the last 15 years, the congressman called him a cheat, a fraud and perhaps the worst businessman in the world.
In November, he told IRS commissioner Charles Rettig that the president’s business and personal returns must be audited impartially and without political interference and the American people have a right to know whether that’s what’s going on.
In 2019, vice president-elect and then-candidate Kamala Harris told NPR that, if elected, her Justice Department would pursue criminal obstruction of justice charges against Trump.
"I believe that they would have no choice and that they should, yes," she said.
In an interview with CNN that aired on 3 December, she said the Biden administration wouldn’t interfere. “We will not tell the Justice Department how to do its job,” she said.
Congressman Pascrell agrees, supporting instead: “A real attorney general who doesn’t wake up each morning quivering as to what the president wants to do, and is an independent attorney general for all the people, not just the president of the United States, which is not his or her role.”
“As Joe Biden said, not going to wake up every morning calling the attorney general as to what he should be doing,” he said, referring to Trump’s attorney general William Barr. “We’ve gone through four years of that, and that’s not what I’m asking for at all.”
But the congressman would expect the Justice Department and congressional committees to investigate.
“You cannot just dispatch, you cannot just cut off … the last four years as if it didn’t exist,” he said. “What message does that send to our kids? What does that tell them? When you do something wrong, particularly if you’re the president, it’s going to go away? And this bully, who said what he wanted and hurt peoples’ lives – this is a gutless individual we’re dealing with here.”
And he’s not alone – there have been calls to assemble a Trump Truth and Reconciliation Committee and to hold accountable his enablers and sycophants once their White House protection has lifted.
“It’s too easy to get rid of lone rangers,” he said. “Many people have talked to me, and encouraged me to do it, and my constituents encouraged me as well. No one is above the law. We either mean it or we don’t.”
He also urged prosecutors to consider that the use of the president’s pardon power – which Trump has used to legally shield convicted allies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn – “would itself be obstruction of justice, and any self-pardons would be illegal.”
“If the election is as important as we say it is or was, then we have to stand up for what is right, there’s no two ways about it,” he told The Independent. “Every tool of government should be used around those responsibilities, whatever branch of government, to go after malfeasance in office. This guy said a lot of things [and] did a lot of things that are more than just questionable, and it has very little to do with Democrat and Republican.
“We need to talk about the survival of the very democracy we talk about, pontificate about, if we really believe it,” he added. “I want democracy to survive. Just changing the administration may not be enough. … Or are we simply going to talk our way into doing nothing, because we’re experts at it.”
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