History shows us authoritarians surround themselves with a willing cast of co-conspirators who often work together to undermine the rule of law. At first, the process appears harmless, even banal. Then suddenly, the public’s eyes are opened to what’s really going on – freedom, justice, both slipping away.
The President Donald Trump – Atty. General William Barr tag team is an example of abuse of power that should be great cause for alarm.
Following the Justice Department’s (under Barr) announcement that it would drop its case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, media outlets reported that former President Barack Obama said the “rule of law is at risk.”
Obama said in a web talk with members of the Obama Alumni Association. “And the fact that there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places.”
The Justice Department’s justification for dropping the case was that FBI agents did not have justifiable reason to question Flynn about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
Remember Flynn was already charged with lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. He had already confessed his guilt in a court of law.
Why would the Justice Department drop its case against Flynn?
On numerous occasions Trump has publicly stated that he feels sorry for Flynn and that he wanted to help him. Trump even toyed with pardoning Flynn.
The fix was in at the Justice Department. Dropping the case of a man who already confessed of the charges against him is not equal protection under the law.
Former FBI Director Andrew McCabe said of the move, “The Justice Department has nothing to do with the facts or the law – it is pure politics, designed to please the president.
Why independence of the Justice Department is important
This latest Flynn controversy is not an anomaly under the Trump-Barr tag team. Remember that the Justice Department is meant to be independent from the President’s office, even though it is under the executive branch. That’s always been the case.
But Trump has not only muddled this independence, he claims that he has the constitutional authority to intervene in matters of the Justice Department – which scholars say is completely false. The independence was set up in order for the Justice Department to pursue equal protection under the law. It is tasked to pursue justice wherever crimes or alleged crimes lead it, even to go after the President himself if warranted.
Instead, the President has used Barr to protect the President’s friends. The next, most dangerous step is – will the President be bold enough to use the Justice Department to go after his political enemies? If that’s the future, we’re looking at the next step toward authoritarianism.
This is perhaps the danger that President Obama is alluding to when he says the “rule of law is at risk.”
History of pleasing the president
Atty. Gen. Barr is turning the Justice Department into an arm to cover up Trump, bending federal law enforcement to the President’s will.
Ways in which the President has influenced the Justice Department:
- by intervening in the sentencing of Roger Stone, a longtime friend and confident of Trump. Stone, as you recall, was sentenced to prison for obstructing Congress and witness tampering in connection with the Russian investigation. Trump called the sentencing severe and made repeated public tirades against the sentencing. Soon after the Justice Department changed Stone’s sentencing.
- the most glaring example of Trump’s influence of Barr was over the Mueller report. Remember before the report was released, Barr sent a memo to Congress summarizing it, claiming that there were insufficient evidence for an obstruction of justice case. Mueller immediately wrote a letter complaining that Barr’s summary didn’t capture the “context, nature, and substance” of his findings. But undeterred, Barr held a press conference reiterating his interpretation, giving the impression that Trump was exonerated. But until today, federal prosecutors, judges and law professors, agree that there was a strong case for obstruction of justice, and thus impeachment. Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided not to pursue it.
- Barr refused to accept the findings of the Inspector General report investigating the origins of the Russia probe.
- Barr also attempted to bury the whistle blower’s complaint which led to the second investigation of Congress into Trump and his eventual impeachment.
Barr has shown time and time again that he is there to shield this president from any accountability. This is not how an attorney general of the U.S., the highest administrator of justice in the country, should be behaving.
In a striking rebuke of the Justice Department’s latest action, nearly 2,000 Justice Department officials have signed onto a letter calling for Barr’s resignation.
Barr has proven to be another one of Trump’s enablers. He has proven to be unfit for this job and should resign or be removed.