President Donald Trump is right that he does “have, as president, the legal right” to meddle in Department of Justice decisions. However, when he makes public comments, or when it can be shown that he has privately discussed any federal criminal case with his Justice subordinates, it should be considered undue interference, and a judge should order that all prosecutions of affected individuals or groups be halted. Furthermore, another count of obstruction of justice should be added to the list of criminal charges he will face when he leaves the White House.
Attorney General Bill Barr was also correct when he said in his ABC interview that the POTUS’s incessant Twitbitzing “about the department, about people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending here, and about judges before whom we have cases, make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors and the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.”
For millions of Americans it might be too late to salvage the DOJ’s credibility, particularly since Barr, as its leader, has been all too willing to sacrifice its image of law enforcement independence to cater to whatever malicious whim Trump is having. Time and time again, Barr has demonstrated a willingness to act on Trump’s personal political vendettas or interfere with action against his friends, leaving the impression that he’s willing to be just another Trumpster attorney, as opposed to maintaining an unyielding reputation of being the nation’s chief federal law enforcer.
With the debacle over Roger Stone, the Barr had gotten so low that he decided that he needed to issue a declaration of independence from the boss. Stone, who has a long history as a political adviser for Trump, had been convicted of lying to Congress, obstructing Congress and intimidating a witness. Justice Department prosecutors recommended a stern sentence to the judge of seven to nine years.
The president tweeted bloody murder. That recommended sentence to his running buddy was “horrible and very unfair.”
Presto change-o! Like a flash, Barr interceded, and the Stone sentencing recommendation was dropped like a, uh, stone. It was replaced by some milder but unspecified punishment. The clamor over Barr’s reputation as a Trump lapdog (which is a mental image that is outright disgusting) had turned into a small roar — a big roar, actually. So loud that Barr decided he’d need to do something to repair his image, particularly when the four prosecutors all quit.
How about a TV interview? He chose ABC News and declared that he wouldn’t be “bullied or influenced by anybody,” including President Trump, and that, furthermore, Trump should stop with “the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases.” So there.
It was the story of the moment: a defiance of Don Trump. Except it wasn’t. Trump was described as being fine with Barr’s little protest, though he’d keep on tweeting because he had the “legal right” to do so.
Meanwhile, it’s just another Trump outrage wasted on Democrats, who are doing all they can to fritter away their advantages, taking shots at each other instead of the daily blasphemies that define Donald Trump. Bill Barr continues to be a team player, in spite of his little pretend tantrum, which Trump either chose to ignore or more probably had a hand in planning.
(Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.)
© 2020 Bob Franken
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