A Bush administration ethics lawyer, turned Democratic Senate candidate, says Joe Biden should appoint a special counsel to investigate Donald Trump under the president’s own 1987 calls to prosecute elected officials.
Richard Painter, who flipped party allegiance and has since been a vocal critic of Mr Trump, urged the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to investigate the former president for "political coercion".
After quitting the GOP, Mr Painter worked to challenge the presidency of Mr Trump by running as a Democratic Senate primary challenger in 2018, which he lost to Minnesota’s Tina Smith.
Mr Painter is co-author of the book American Nero: The History of the Destruction of the Rule of Law, and Why Trump is the Worst Offender.
He has called for multiple investigations and indictments, into issues from Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, the Ukraine phone call that led to Mr Trump’s first impeachment, and the “coup” at the US Capitol that led to the second impeachment. The Senate acquitted Mr Trump of both impeachment charges.
In an opinion article penned for MSNBC, Mr Painter said Mr Trump should be investigated under the statute prohibiting “Coercion of Political Activity”, which makes it a federal offence to intimidate, threaten, commend or coerce, a government employee to engage in political activity.
He says “the evidence is overwhelming” that Mr Trump coerced federal government employees before, during and after the 2020 election, including former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, former attorney general William Barr and his replacement Jeffrey Rosen, and USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
Mr Painter says that Mr Biden argued more than 30 years ago, when he was still a senator, in the North Carolina Law Review that special prosecutors were needed to investigate high-ranking government officials and should do so now that he is sitting in the White House.
“He’s president now, and his attorney general, Merrick Garland, has the authority to appoint a special counsel to investigate and prosecute allegations of crimes by Trump and others, including violations of the political coercion statute,” Mr Painter wrote.
In the 1987 article, Shared Power under the Constitution: The Independent Counsel, Mr Biden wrote that there are moments of crisis, like Watergate, when people lose faith in the integrity and independence of elected officials.
Such crises tarnish the view that the attorney general is independent of the government who can be trusted to enforce criminal law against members of the government, Mr Biden wrote.
“To restore the utmost public confidence in the investigation of criminal wrongdoing by high-ranking government officials, the appointment of a special prosecutor then becomes necessary,” he said in the article.
Mr Painter said that the final year of the Trump administration may have been one of the most “extraordinary moments of crisis” since the Civil War, and that Mr Biden need only read his own law review article to figure out what to do about it”.
Mr Painter has also called on Mr Biden to establish a permanent special counsel to handle a federal tax investigation into his son Hunter Biden.
Mr Garland has not appointed a special counsel to oversee the case. The probe is being led by Delaware US Attorney David Weiss, who had paused the criminal investigation in 2020 so as not to “alert the public to the existence of the case in the middle of a presidential election”, according to a report in Politico.
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