For months, the President of the United States has turned congressional surrogates loose on his own Department of Justice (DOJ). Let that sink in for a moment. Republicans are attacking Republicans who work for other Republicans. It doesn’t make sense, but too many in the GOP are normalizing this mind-warping madness that puts justice itself on perilous footing.
In a July interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, Republican House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes (CA-22) repeated the now-common refrain that the DOJ’s leadership is after Republicans. “I have to believe that the Department of Justice and the FBI, the people at the leadership, they are banking on a loss by the Republicans in the fall,” he said, “Because if the Democrats take control, they are going to drop all of this investigation.”
Wait. What? The “leadership” of Trump’s DOJ wants Democrats to win?
At this point, whom is Nunes actually concerned about? James Comey? Gone. Andrew McCabe? Gone. In July, Peter Strzok was escorted from the DOJ and effectively suspended as the agency’s internal disciplinary process proceeds. Go down the list of most of the DOJ employees Republicans have cited as bad actors. Most of them have departed the DOJ one way or another. The agency seems to be taking credible evidence of unlawful or unethical bias quite seriously these days.
More importantly, everyone remaining at the DOJ works for Trump. If he’s really concerned that the systems in place aren’t up to the task to deal with political bias, he’s free to make changes. Jeff Sessions is the Attorney General, and he only recused himself from matters related to the campaign. If blanket issues of political bias remain at the DOJ, Trump should hold Sessions accountable. At this point, he hasn’t done anything save repeated rhetorical lashings.
“I have tried to stay uninvolved with the Department of Justice and FBI (although I do not legally have to) because of the now totally discredited and very expensive Witch Hunt currently going on,” Trump tweeted in June. “But you do have to ask why the DOJ & FBI aren’t giving over requested documents?”
Strange things happen when the President and his congressional surrogates stoke the anti-Republican conspiracy fires.
The most recent attempt by Rep. Jim Jordan (OH-4), Rep. Mark Meadows (NC-11), and nine other Republicans to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is a perfect example. The wide-ranging bill falls well short of asserting any conduct that might reasonably meet the Constitution’s impeachment standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Put the move in relatively recent context.
In 2012, the House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress because of his failure to turn over documents related to the Fast and Furious scandal. Even that rebuke was a historical anomaly against a sitting cabinet official. It looks downright gentle compared to the impeachment filing against Rosenstein.
As a former committee staffer on the Hill, I absolutely understand the frustration of overseeing agencies that would rather not be bothered with requests from Congress. Even so, impeaching a deputy attorney general for what amounts to document request disputes sets a terrible precedent. Imagine if Democrats used the same threshold to gum up the entire legislative agenda with impeachment hearings of Trump administration officials.
If there’s credible evidence to believe the DOJ is failing to impartially enforce federal law or comply with oversight, Congress should appeal to the president who is ultimately responsible. As Trump has noted, he could direct Rosenstein to give Congress just about anything. He could also replace him. Without additional specific allegations of wrongdoing, Republican politicians should stop perpetuating or supporting the general claim that DOJ leadership is out to get them.
Justice must not belong to Democrats or Republicans. It should be independent and fair. As far as oversight is concerned, the Constitution actually expects the entire legislative branch to hold the executive accountable. If Democrats and Republicans press for more accountability and transparency from federal agencies at the same time, we should applaud the effort. That seems unlikely to happen regardless of the election outcome in November.
When politicians in our midst claim scandal and conspiracy at the DOJ, we should press for details. Who in DOJ leadership is after Republicans? Which Trump appointee is failing in his or her administration of federal law? The details for such serious allegations must be readily available. If they aren’t, we need to face the cold reality that some politicians are interested in undermining our confidence in the rule of law regardless of the facts. Instead of focusing on “owning the libs,” Republicans should worry about why we’re letting so many politicians own us with little more than a stream of tweets, allegations and innuendo.