Progressive Views: Politics and the Law

by Cindy Offutt
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, May 24, 2019

“Golden Lady Justice, Bruges, Belgium” by Emmanuel Huybrechts is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

Where to begin?  As I put pen to paper to write this op/ed piece, a redacted version of the Mueller Report has just been released for all to absorb.  Most likely, by the time this piece is published, many if not most of Boerne’s Republicans will have bought-in to the president’s now-infamous (if inaccurate) tweet: “Total EXONERATION.” 

It’s a silly claim that even a cursory reading of the Mueller Report dispels, but since it suits their pre-existing political bent, it’ll no doubt be the story the Republican base sticks to.  After all, they have more than just the (lying) tweets of a (lying) president to rely on.  There’s also the fact that Trump’s guy in the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr, has repeatedly mis-characterized the Mueller Report’s findings, as has FOX “News.”

Contrary to Barr’s claims – and to state the obvious – a non-indictment decision based on Justice Department policy that a sitting president is not subject to indictment is nowhere close to the same thing as exoneration, total or otherwise (especially inasmuch as Mueller expressly refuted that the findings on obstruction of justice exonerate Trump).

The full import of the Mueller Report is slowly evolving as more people read it.  Beyond the question of impeachment, most of the focus has been on the president’s non-response to Russian efforts to subvert our democracy, on the president’s attempts to derail and obstruct the investigation, and on Mueller’s explicit declination to exonerate the president.

In addition, more and more people have taken notice of the obvious partisanship exhibited by AG Barr.  As many have noted – and as even FOX News anchor Chris Wallace observed – “(t)he attorney general seemed almost to be acting as the counselor for the defense, or the counselor for the president, rather than the attorney general.” 

(Of course, that was before the rest of the propagandists at FOX realized their job was to claim that the Mueller Report vindicated Trump, evidently hoping that the American people – or at least that part of the American people watching FOX and/or constituting the Republican base – would be too lazy or too unwilling to read and understand the report’s actual findings.)

Regardless, as to the current attorney general, it goes without saying that he is the top law enforcement officer in the United States.  His primary job is to enforce the law in both the criminal and civil arenas.  As the head of the Justice Department, he oversees investigations conducted by the FBI, to include such things as foreign intelligence operations as well as a litany of criminal activity (e.g., espionage, terrorism, high-tech crimes, public corruption, white-collar crimes, etc etc).

And consistent with his oath of office, the AG’s job is to ensure that all persons are guaranteed “the equal protection of the laws” as required by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Or to put it another way, the AG’s job is to enforce the law without favor or partisanship.

All of which begs the question:  What if Barr’s partisanship – in lockstep with his boss’s deceits (“Complete and Total EXONERATION”) – somehow normalizes the politicizing of law enforcement on a larger scale?  What happens when politics steers criminal justice and law enforcement?  What would it mean if the wide-ranging functions and vast powers of the criminal justice system were allowed to become “more aggressively partisan” (in the words of a Morning Joe participant)?

Of course, such a thing could never happen in America, right?

Wrong.  

As everyone recalls, Trump’s supporters incessantly chanted, “Lock her up” at Trump rallies, referring to Trump’s political opponent Hillary Clinton.

Then as president, Trump relentlessly berated then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, absurdly demanding that he “un-recuse” himself to take control of the Russia investigation and to re-open the long-closed investigation into Mrs. Clinton (along with numerous other “other side” enemies of the president).  (See Trump tweets, Aug 24, 2018.)

More recently, the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has spawned ugly, unrelenting attacks by the president against Justice Department personnel, primarily personnel he falsely pigeon-holed as “Trump-hating Democrats” in the FBI.

This reeks of nothing so much as gross abuse of power – specifically, the president’s attempts to use (or rather, misuse) law enforcement to try to go after his political enemies.  If nothing else, this demonstrates President Trump’s indifference to what it means that this country adheres to the rule of law as opposed to the vindictive and malicious appetites of a “dear leader” or dictator.

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