By Sid Schwab / Herald columnist
When President Barack Obama addressed his U.S. attorneys, he told them, “I appointed you but you don’t serve me. You serve the American people. And I expect you to act with independence and integrity.”
When Trump took office, he fired them all. “Independence and integrity” are anathema to the presidency he envisioned and which he’s so easily spawned.
He misjudged his first attorney general. There was reason to believe Jeff Sessions would kow to his tow; and, mostly, he did. But he retained enough of something approximating integrity to recuse himself from overseeing Robert Mueller’s investigation. Naturally, this angered Trump.
Enter William Barr, who hung what had passed for integrity on the White House pegboard as he entered, where it dangles still, alongside many others’. A career-long advocate for the unbound “unitary executive,” he’s been an eager doer of Trump’s bidding ever since.
History won’t forget Barr’s opening gambit: distortion and outright lying about the Mueller Report, pleasing the “president” and his media, rightly figuring his dissembling would Velcro to Trumpists’ prickly minds. It has. Subsequently, Mr. Barr has made clear his full-time, exclusive commitment to carrying water for Trump.
Under Trump and Barr, independence of our Department of Justice, indispensable to a functioning democratic republic, suffered a painful but quick death. Barr’s interventions in cases about which Trump has expressed displeasure is exactly what attorneys general should not be doing, for reasons so obvious they require no mention.
Seeing nothing wrong with a “president” interfering, even when prosecutors followed Department of Justice sentencing guidelines, Trump’s defenders were quick to approve. Claiming it’s his right to do whatever he wants, they ardently defend using the DOJ as his personal vendetta and self-serving machinery, expecting “his” AG to follow orders in all matters. Nothing wrong with that, they argued, to Fox viewers. Take directions from Trump to investigate the investigators. Let the “president” decide who gets prosecuted and who doesn’t. Attacking judges and jurors is his prerogative, too; totally harmless to our system of justice.
In fact, this is unrestrained autarchy, which shouldn’t be hard, even for Trumpists, to understand. Why don’t they care, and why have they renounced American jurisprudence?
In response to Trump’s despotism by tweet, Barr spoke out: “It’s time to stop tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” he said. Trump’s tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job …” Oh, look, enthused the media: Barr is calling out Trump in public! It’s a new beginning!
Bullwaste. The “job” to which he referred is defending Trump no matter the cost to our nation. What he meant was, “Cool it, Donald. You’re making it hard to hide the cahooting.” Playing along, rightwing media feigned outrage at Barr’s pushback, helpfully pretending there was space between the two. Lou Dobbs, who cheerleads when Trump claims a constitutional right to absolute power, called it “A damn shame.” Unfazed and uncaring, Trump escalated his “impossible” tweets. If Barr meant what he said, he’d have resigned.
It’s not only Trump’s vendettas against “enemies” and helping friends that Barr is facilitating. At Trump’s behest, he tried to help Recep Tayyip Erdogan stop American prosecution of a Turkish bank. Yet another abuse to benefit Trump, whose business failures have left him in hock to foreign banks.
We’ve come to expect unqualified defense, by today’s Republicans, of whatever dictatorial move Trump makes. But to defend presidential manipulations of the Department of Justice is monumental hypocrisy. Those defenders would be shattering eardrums with their screams for impeachment if a Democrat did what Trump is demanding and what Barr is doing.
If defending and obeying our laws and prosecuting those who break them is subject to presidential whim, especially this vindictive, prevaricating, uninformed, strongman-emulating one, laws are meaningless. Yet congressional Republicans applaud it. Which illustrates the obvious: If it benefits the right people, corruption is fine with them. King Donald’s pardons of corrupt Mar-a-Lago pals, and current and future big-dollar donors should outrage everyone. That it doesn’t confirms Trump’s normalization of lawlessness and fraud, and the moral collapse of today’s Republican leaders.
Speaking of which, the steel contract for Trump’s saw-soft, easily-climbable, wind-blown-over wall went to a group whose ownership gave $1.75 million to a Trump super-PAC. And Trump just waived federal contracting rules, so there’ll be more. It’s the story of Trump: the con and the conned.
Trump hasn’t yet killed President Obama’s economic recovery. For Republicans, evidently, that’s all it takes to justify abandoning integrity.
Email Sid Schwab at email@example.com.