Back when the January 6th Committee got Steve Bannon indicted and arrested for criminal contempt after he tried to invoke imaginary privilege, the doomsday types insisted that subsequent witnesses would “get away with it all” by simply showing up and invoking the Fifth Amendment in response to every question. But as Palmer Report explained at the time, the Fifth Amendment is not a magic wand that a witness can just wave in response to every question – and any such attempt would surely result in a criminal referral for contempt.
Sure enough, Alex Jones appeared before the committee days ago, and invoked the Fifth Amendment in response to essentially every question. In response, Congressman Jamie Raskin announced today that the Fifth Amendment is “not a magic wand that you wave over the whole proceeding and you don’t have to answer anything.” Sound familiar?
Regular Palmer Report readers have heard me say over and over again that the Fifth Amendment, among other tactics, is “not a magic wand that you can wave” in order to get off the legal hook. Now Congressman Raskin, who is also a longtime law professor, is saying the exact same thing – and even using the exact same words.
It’s nice to be in good company. But no, Raskin isn’t cribbing from us. He’s simply explaining exactly how the law works in these situations, using the most obvious metaphor available. Legal precedent makes clear that the Fifth Amendment can only be used in surgical fashion, in response to specific questions that a witness reasonably fears could incriminate him, and NOT in broad fashion in response to every question.
Because Raskin is on the January 6th Committee, his words today serve to basically confirm that the committee will end up making a criminal referral to the DOJ against Alex Jones for contempt. And because the DOJ has already set the precedent with Bannon that it’ll indict anyone who’s legitimately referred for contempt (yes, Mark Meadows will also be indicted), this means that Alex Jones is now on track for prison.
It’s not clear if Jones has received terrible legal advice about how the Fifth Amendment works, or if he’s made the strategic decision that he’d rather go to prison for contempt than answer questions and risk a much longer prison sentence for seditious conspiracy (and perjury). Even if it’s the latter, it won’t mean Jones is “getting away with it all;” if you’re choosing a shorter prison sentence over a longer prison sentence, you’re clearly losing.
Then again, given the likelihood that one or more of the recently indicted Oath Keepers leaders will end up flipping, the DOJ is probably going to end up getting Alex Jones for seditious conspiracy in the long run anyway. So the real news here isn’t that Jones is headed for prison (that’s been clear for nearly a year). It’s that once the January 6th Committee manages to get Jones indicted for contempt, other reluctant witnesses will see that the Fifth Amendment will not magically save them, and that their only way out is to flip on everyone.
As for the doomsday types who keep insisting that everyone in Trump world will “get away with it all” by simply waving this or that magic wand, Congressman Jamie Raskin is spelling out in exact words today that nothing works that way, because there are no magic wands in any of this. Keep that in mind the next time some clueless hack on Twitter claims otherwise.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report