Published by The Lawfare Institute
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Donald Trump’s angry morning tweet storm reached another new low with attacks on his Attorney General for not investigating his former presidential opponent, and on his acting FBI Director’s integrity. This and other attacks on key law enforcement figures in his own Executive branch goes far beyond breaking norms of investigatory independence. They bring us clearly into the territory, where we may have been for a while, of a president bent on destroying the authority of the Justice Department that he worries, perhaps for reasons only he knows, may destroy him. At no time in modern history (and perhaps ever) has a President been so openly at odds, and bent on discrediting, his senior law enforcement and intelligence officials.
I know how disheartening it is for senior leadership and beyond in the Justice Department and FBI to wake up every morning to read the latest vicious attacks on their integrity by the man they ostensibly serve. There is a natural tendency to think: What can we do to fight back, to tell the President he is wrong, to stop him from attacking us? The problem is that there is nothing anyone can to do stop the President short of impeachment. Attorney General Sessions could and should speak out sharply against the President and in defense of the integrity of his Department. That would hasten Sessions’ departure and not stop the shameless President. And resignations in protest of Sessions' departure would only make matters worse, especially since there are so very few political appointees in DOJ at the moment.
I think, as I suggested the other day, that the only thing for the men and women of the Justice Department to do is to keep doing their jobs well until they get fired. That is the way to serve the American people in upholding the rule of law in the face of a president bent on trying to destroy it. It is a remarkable fact that despite Trump’s relentless attacks on DOJ independence, DOJ continues to function with extraordinary independence, which every single Trump DOJ nominee has underscored before the Senate and—with the possible exception of Rosenstein’s shenanigans with the Comey firing—in practice. The President can fire Sessions and Rosenstein and McCabe if he likes, but he cannot fire everyone, and he cannot stop an investigation that now has a relentless logic that is only reinforced every time he attacks DOJ independence. In this regard, Trump’s unhinged tweets display weakness, not strength.
The crazier Trump gets with law enforcement, the more the pressure will rise on Congress to do something more about it. Congress has shown more backbone on the Russia matter than it gets credit for (witness the upcoming sanctions that limits Trump’s room for maneuver, and the robust Senate Intelligence Committee investigation). I continue to think that if Trump acts (as opposed to talks) to try to halt a robust Russia investigation, Congress will respond in kind. As I have said before, I know that sounds naïve to some, and I hope but am not sure I am right.