Alan Zendell, January 24, 2021
George Conway is a conservative Republican lawyer who was on the short list for two positions in the Trump administration in 2017. He did not receive the appointment as Solicitor General, and subsequently withdrew his name from consideration as the Director of the Civil Division of the Justice Department. At the same time, his wife of more than twenty years, Kellyanne Conway, was appointed senior advisor to Trump, a position she served in until shortly before the 2020 election.
While Kellyanne was one of Trump’s chief defenders and enablers throughout his term, George quickly became disillusioned with what he viewed as the president’s constant attacks on the Rule of Law. A staunch member of the Federalist Society, George Conway founded The Lincoln Project, a PAC whose only purpose was to defeat Trump’s bid for re-election, in December 2019.
Throughout Trump’s term, the Conways’ opposing views of the president grew in intensity as Trump’s actions became more outrageous and the 2020 election approached. Many people compared them to the “political odd couple” of the 1990s, James Carville and Mary Matalin. Carville and Matalin, both prominent political advisors, had been on opposite sides of the 1992 Clinton-Bush campaign. They married in 1993 and parlayed their political differences and television appeal into a lucrative career – a diametrically opposed political couple, who managed to not only navigate a successful marriage, but profit from their publicly expressed disagreement. They were so popular, many people wondered how much of their differences were real and how much they were staged for their adoring audiences.
The same question was asked about the Conways. Though they never debated with each other in public, they were both quite vocal with their opinions. Their disagreements about the president became so intense, one had to wonder how a man who constantly claimed the president was guilty of criminal behavior and unfit to serve could live with one of his most loyal sycophants. Apparently, they couldn’t, because Kellyanne resigned her position after the Republican convention at the end of August, saying she needed to spend time repairing her marriage and has been silent ever since. George, however, has not.
I find his views compelling because he has always been a very vocal conservative who was a strong defender of the Constitution and the Rule of Law. He seems to have no motive for criticizing the former president except principles. Thus, on its Sunday opinion page for January 24, 2021, the Washington Post turned to him for a lengthy analysis of the pros and cons of whether Trump should be convicted by the Senate and investigated for a variety of alleged crimes he committed before and during his presidency. Conway’s opinion piece is both balanced and convincing – I urge everyone to click on the link and read it through.
Conway discusses opposing arguments by prominent law professors who argue that seeking to punish Trump is not worth the further disruption to society or the risk of re-awakening the anger that gave rise to the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. Trump’s alleged crimes are compared to those of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon. Conway notes that Clinton’s crime had no impact on his responsibilities as president and that he reached a plea agreement with Special Prosecutor Ken Starr, in which he admitted his wrongdoing, paid a $25,000 fine, and accepted a five-year suspension of his license to practice law. Nixon, whose crimes were more serious, eventually acknowledged his guilt and resigned the presidency.
Conway argues that the long list of crimes Trump is accused of are an entirely different thing. Prosecutors have been amassing evidence for years about actions they believe prove tax fraud and bank fraud, crimes for which he can be indicted at the state, local and federal levels. He further argues that he may be guilty of many criminal acts as president, from which he was protected from prosecution by Justice Department policy while he was in office. But now, as a private citizen, he has exposure both to the U. S. Attorney for D. C. and the Justice Department. Conway concludes the need to assure that no future president ever attempts to overthrow the Constitution far outweighs any negative fallout that might result from either a Senate conviction for inciting insurrection or a conviction by New York or the District of Columbia.
My favorite line from Conway’s opinion piece says it all. “[Trump’s] life amounts to a virtual issue-spotting exercise for any student studying criminal law.” Prosecution and conviction of the former president would set a precarious precedent, but failure to hold him accountable sets a more dangerous one.