Donald Trump is ripping apart the Justice Department

On the eve of Senate hearings on a new Supreme Court justice, the president thumbed his nose at the law

Published September 7, 2018 4:19PM (EDT)

 (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)
(Getty/Chip Somodevilla)

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Silly as it sounds, maybe the tweets are as close as we can get to what Trump actually thinks — or at least in what direction his gut heaves.

In retrospect, rather than having worked hard to ignore the tweets, perhaps we will come to a point of actually studying them for clues of his surgery on the powers of the presidency.

Trump’s tweet on Monday, slamming Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions over having brought criminal charges against two Republican congressmen in recent weeks, is worth more than passing note.

Indeed, to me, it is a siren call for the Authoritarianism Watch that Trump’s words and actions have made necessary.  On the eve of Senate hearings on a new Supreme Court justice, the president thumbed his nose at the law.

What the president suggested was that the Department of Justice should be used in a political sense to comfort Trump’s party and as a weapon against those associated with his partisan opponents.  He said directly that the cases endanger Republican hopes of retaining both seats, that of Reps. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., and Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

Skip the fact that neither case has anything to do with election politics or that the investigations leading to the charges were begun and conducted under the Trump administration. This tweet is a broadside against the rule of law and the independence of the FBI and the Justice Department.

The president has made clear that he views Justice in the same sense that he views Agriculture, a department whose policies he controls and that should work for his personal, partisan, party benefit. That’s the mark of dictators and does not dignify the office that Trump holds.

Here was the tweet:  “Two long-running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well-publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff.”

Wrong, but easy to follow. The president was referencing charges against Collins for his part in a stock market insider trading problem, and Hunter for misspending campaign money on personal expenses. The charges against each are pending. Both were early Trump supporters in Congress, and Hunter has joined the attack on Justice as being politically motivated.

For a law and order president to attack criminal charges on political grounds makes no sense.

The president’s criticisms of Sessions have been rising, in large part over Sessions’ recusal from involvement in the all-things-Russia investigations. Last week, he said Sessions will remain in his job until November, though there has been a widespread suggestion that he will be gone the day after the elections.

As The New York Times account noted, until Monday, Trump had not so overtly tied the Justice Department’s responsibility for pursuing charges against alleged criminals with Republicans’ election prospects.

By referring to the “Jeff Sessions Justice Department,” Trump put distance between himself and the country’s top law enforcement organization, which is investigating members of his inner circle and his business dealings through the special counsel investigation and the U.S. attorney’s office in the southern district of New York.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) was among the few to speak out about the tweet. “The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice — one for the majority and one for the minority party. These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the president was when the investigations began.”

The Times also quoted former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance: “The president is trying to delegitimize the criminal justice system in this country because people close to him are at risk.”

Clearly, Trump is just going about his electioneering self, tossing social media comments as campaign leaflets, not worried about the lasting meaning of the language or his opinions, which change even in the least amount of political wind.

But that’s not how it is heard by America’s citizens. Unless they have signed on for the lifetime Trump pledge, I would suspect that most people heard the sound of Trump crossing a line guaranteeing the independence of the Justice Department.

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By Terry H. Schwadron

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