The U.S. Department of Justice is opposing counsel in about half of the cases I litigate; needless to say, I am no apologist for them. At the same time as being frustrated by their, for example, analogizing my legal arguments to those of a terrorist, doing their best to keep evidence out of the courts, and even obtaining a special gag order just for me, I respect that they serve an important role in seeing that justice is served in our country. Unlike the TSA, which should be disbanded rather than corrected, the DoJ should be an institution in which we continually place intelligent, loyal, and non-partisan civil servants.
Instead, Donald Trump has done the following:
- Appointed then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates as Acting Attorney General, and then fired her 10 days later. The Attorney General is the highest position in the DoJ, which encompasses not only the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which we usually associate with them, but also a host of sub-agencies, including the FBI, DEA, and many others. Why did he fire her? According to him, it was because she refused to defend his Muslim Ban on the grounds that the Executive Order was indefensible (virtually every federal judge to hear the matter has agreed). As the nation’s top attorney, she is obligated to uphold the law and cannot defend law that she believes is unconstitutional. But, it’s also interesting to note that she was fired on the same day that she, correctly, informed the President that his National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was compromised by Russia and Turkey.
- Fired Legendary U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. If there was one high official in the DoJ who deserved respect, it was Mr. Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. His district contained Wall Street, and he was well-known for aggressively prosecuting financial crimes including the likes of Bernie Madoff. But, he was also well-known for fighting public corruption and taking down many a politician in New York, and some speculated he “could be reviewing a range of potential improper activity emanating from Trump Tower and the Trump campaign.” Trump never offered a reason for firing Mr. Bharara.
- Fired FBI Director James Comey. Being overseas at the moment, I was shocked to wake up this morning to read that Trump has fired the head of the FBI (which, as mentioned, is a sub-agency of the Dept. of Justice). Officially, Trump’s position was that Comey was fired for mis-handling the Clinton e-mail scandal by stating last July that she would not likely be prosecuted. This begs the question, though: why now? In a bizzare 1-page termination notice, Trump takes time time to note his “appreciation” that Comey has “informed” him repeatedly that he is not under investigation. But the fact remains, of course, that the FBI is actively investigating Russian influence on the election. It is also worthy of note that U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions officially gave Trump the recommendation to fire Comey. Mr. Sessions, after public and Congressional outcry, had recused himself from the Russia investigation… yet now fired the person who was in charge of it.
To be perfectly blunt, it seems to me, based on this pattern of firings, to be far more plausible that Trump has fired these people for not just political reasons, but in order to prevent the exposure of anything from poor decision making (e.g., accidentally hiring a foreign agent to lead the country’s intelligence community) to lying to secretly working with foreign nations. And, were I Donald Trump and had I nothing to hide, I would certainly at least be aware of the public perception I would be creating by firing these career administrators.
To any extent that Donald Trump has “drained the swamp,” he has either replaced it with new swamp or failed to replace it at all, leaving a hole in our nation’s ability to function. People like Preet Bharara are not easily replaceable, and Trump should have been begging him to stay rather than asking him to leave.
What Trump has done to the DoJ is shameful. And, it should go without saying that a special prosecutor needs to be appointed to continue any investigation that Comey was up to before he was fired, because whether or not there’s anything to uncover, the administration of justice requires impartiality beyond what Trump’s team has afforded us so far.