Subpoenas in Georgia’s Trump corruption probe won’t come until May at best

If we've learned anything in the last few years, it's that when powerful people commit crimes, the odds that our nation's various legal jurisdictions can be roused to do so much as even investigate what happened in a rational timeframe are iffy at best. It has been a year and change since the last Republican administration mounted an all-out effort to overturn the results of a not-even-close United States election; although each of of the connected plots mounted by Donald Trump, his allies, and complicit Republican lawmakers are now known in public detail, whether any of those involved face legal consequences for attempting to overthrow the United States government appears to depend on whether Rep. Liz Cheney goads the rest of government into doing so.

If you're feeling cynical about an entire year and change going by with no word from prosecutors that organizing a mob to interfere with Congress' ability to carry out a foundational constitutional function—or just calling up election officials directly to pressure them to change the vote tallies—then join the club.

Yes, yes, we are told that the wheels of justice turn slowly and that, behind the scenes, no doubt, prosecutors are gathering up vast mountains of evidence because they want to do this thing properly. That may be true and it may not be—the Mueller investigation suggests this is the rosiest possible interpretation. But as far as anybody can tell, top members of government conspired to nullify a United States election based on hoaxes, and nobody has done squat about it. The co-conspirators, in the meantime, are invited onto the Sunday shows to rail about the audacity of anyone even being upset about these things a whole year later.

In Atlanta, there is maaaaaaaybe some movement over a year past the time when the American public first heard the audio recording of the Trump White House pressuring the Georgia Secretary of State to "find" enough Trump votes to erase Biden's win of the state. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis received court approval in late January to seat a special grand jury to hear evidence in the case; this was necessary, she said, because witnesses to Trump's pressure were refusing to cooperate with her office without subpoenas forcing them to do so.

So here we are: A year later, key witnesses to the calls are expected to be subpoenaed to give their accounts of what happened. Welcome to the American justice system, subcategory "when you're rich or know somebody who is."

When will the subpoenas demanding testimony and documents begin? Well, the special grand jury won't be seated until May, so no sooner than that. In a new CNN interview, Willis predicted that "most" will begin to come "in June and later months."

In the interview, Willis sounded determined but not necessarily gung-ho about the investigation, which is admittedly the only public demeanor you're allowed to have when investigating even crimes that threaten the stability of government itself. "This is a criminal investigation," and "we're not here playing a game," she said. She also dismissed the expected Trump defense, the claim that presidents can't be prosecuted for crimes committed while in office.

You might remember the theory from its previous versions, in which Trump and the near-entirety of House and Senate Republicans argued during one impeachment that Trump couldn't be held accountable for crimes while he was still president because Shut Up, and couldn't be held accountable for crimes committed on his way out of office because it's just too damn Divisive. But the more generic version offered up by Trump defenders is that you can't prosecute [Republican] presidents for anything, at any time, period.

As for any hint as to which way the district attorney's office is leaning, Willis gave not much. She told CNN:

"You and I have listened to that phone call. But also I have the benefit of also having talked to a lot of witnesses and probably having read more on this than most people would like to."

I'm not going to argue here that the public should be "patient" in waiting to hear if elected officials are allowed to just straight-up phone elections officials to tell them that the election results are wrong and they need to "find" some votes to fix it.

I'm also not going to argue that prosecutors are dragging their feet, because we're in no position to know. But the facts of the matter are this: We're only going to be seeing subpoenas filed to investigate the Trump-Raffensperger call in summer, and the system will assuredly be gamed so that the first (secret) testimony takes place in the fall at best.

That means that the decision about whether to proceed with a Trump indictment will not be made until close to the midterm elections ... which means Willis will likely feel pressure to push it past the midterms so as to not be accused herself of influencing an election.

None of this feels like anybody, anywhere is treating an attempt to overthrow democracy via straight-up crookery as something that needs to be responded to with above-average urgency.

Yes, we get it; it takes vast amounts of time to do even the littlest things when laws are applied to people who have enough money to hire as many lawyers as it takes to make sure tee times are not threatened. But maybe that's been the underlying problem that's led to all the rest of it. We're a society in which a specific subclass of the wealthy, mostly Wall Street and real estate tycoons, can topple economies and even mount attempted coups—and it will all be considered just the sort of thing rich Americans are allowed to do.

Trump's been a crook his whole life and never faced a consequence, other than having to shell out a little bit of cash for settlements that would let the rest of his grift machine keep going. It's obvious he would expect that he could commit any crime he wanted to, as "president," and walk away again. And it's pretty damn obvious that Republican lawmakers have so internalized their positions as protectors of the wealthy that there is no crime an ally could commit that would result in abandonment. Crash the economy, kill hundreds of thousands, rouse fascist mobs to demand we put an end to vote-counting rather than put up with the results—nothing.

So long as the consequences for crimes can be pushed past the next election season, there are no consequences for crimes at all. It's just a question of being able to outlast whatever momentary public disgust is aimed at you.

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