Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Political Interference with Prosecutorial Independence

 

I’d like you to travel back with me to the distant past, a simpler time. Mid-February 2020, to be precise. I know, with the COVID epidemic and now the George Floyd race riots, it seems like years ago. But if you recall, there was quite a scandal in mid-February, about 15 long weeks ago, about President Trump’s supposedly wrongful interference with the Department of Justice’s sentencing recommendations in the Roger Stone case.

Our Leftist countrymen erupted in outrage. How dare a President — an elected politician — interfere with the pristine and neutral workings of our system of Justice! I have a few examples for you.

From Time, on February 12, 2020:

There is outrage this morning over what happened to the Department of Justice yesterday.

. . .

But there is a sharp line dividing presidential leadership in setting policy, which is appropriate, from presidential interference in the conduct of a specific criminal case, which is not. Here’s why they’re different and why we should all be concerned about DOJ’s new sentencing recommendation in the Roger Stone case, which rejects its own initial proposal for one more in keeping with what the President called for on Twitter. 

Among the Founding Fathers’ chief goals was to do away with a government where the king was above the law and had absolute power over the lives of his subjects. In our system, the President, like every other citizen, is meant to be subject to the law. The Founding Fathers were explicit about that intention when they debated the shape the new government they were creating would take. And that quintessentially American view that no man is above the law has been the case up until the presidency of Donald Trump.

Got that? Elected political leaders must never, never, ever interfere in a criminal prosecution. It would be like having a King with absolute power!

From Newsweek, February 14, 2020:

Trump Claims He Has ‘Legal Right’ To Meddle With DOJ But Former Officials Say It Would Be A ‘Grossly Improper’ Abuse of Power

After Attorney General William Barr criticized the president for making his job “impossible,” Donald Trump asserted Friday that he has the “legal right” to interfere with criminal cases handled by the Department of Justice.

But former DOJ officials warn that any interference by the president in criminal prosecutions, while not illegal, is a highly unusual move that would undermine the country’s justice system.

. . .

“The president arguably, as head of the executive branch, has the constitutional authority and discretion to give direction to the Department of Justice or any other executive branch. But it is grossly improper and an abuse of that discretion for the president to seek to influence a criminal investigation,” David Laufman, the DOJ’s former counterintelligence chief, told Newsweek.

He added that throughout the history of the Justice Department there have been “explicit understandings” in how the White House can communicate with the law enforcement agency—until now.

“I can’t think of any president in recent modern history that has repeatedly made public statements about pending criminal investigations, prosecutions or trials with the intent to influence them,” Laufman said.

Former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman agreed, noting that there’s nothing in the Constitution preventing Trump from telling the attorney general how to handle a certain case but that it’s “just never done.”

“It’s never done because it looks like the president is interfering in the system of justice, that he is putting his own personal beliefs on top of what we want as even-handed enforcement of our criminal law,” Akerman told Newsweek. “This is something unique to Donald Trump.”

OK, just to be sure that we understand. For an elected politician to intervene in a specific criminal case is a Grossly Improper Abuse Of Power, something that is Just Never Done, and that is — wait for it — Unique To Donald Trump. Bad, bad Orange Man!

It’s not just the media. It’s the pristine, honorable career prosecutors as the hallowed Department of Justice, who issued an open letter on February 16, 2020. According to CBS News on February 18, the letter had been signed by 2,003 of these distinguished “Justice Department alumni.” The letter itself, linked above, now lists 2,689 signatories. Some excerpts:

The Justice Manual — the DOJ’s rulebook for its lawyers — states that “the rule of law depends on the evenhanded administration of justice”; that the Department’s legal decisions “must be impartial and insulated from political influence”; and that the Department’s prosecutorial powers, in particular, must be “exercised free from partisan consideration.”

All DOJ lawyers are well-versed in these rules, regulations, and constitutional commands. They stand for the proposition that political interference in the conduct of a criminal prosecution is anathema to the Department’s core mission and to its sacred obligation to ensure equal justice under the law.

And yet, President Trump and Attorney General Barr have openly and repeatedly flouted this fundamental principle, most recently in connection with the sentencing of President Trump’s close associate, Roger Stone, who was convicted of serious crimes. The Department has a long-standing practice in which political appointees set broad policies that line prosecutors apply to individual cases. That practice exists to animate the constitutional principles regarding the even-handed application of the law.

Got that? How dare an elected Executive interfere with the operation of the professional prosecutors.

In fairness, these former DoJ personnel knew full well that this had been done in the past, so they acknowledged that “there are times when political leadership appropriately weighs in on individual prosecutions,” but not in this particular case. The letter concluded:

Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.

Right. We’re living in an autocracy, because of that Bad Orange Man.

Now jump forward to the present day, in Minneapolis, and we have this:

Minneapolis mayor calls for charges against arresting officer in death of George Floyd.  (Here.)

You can watch the video at the link. The mayor asks: “Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail.” The news announcer says: “It’s something no Minneapolis mayor has ever done before. A call for charges against one of his own officers.”

And so I’m calling on Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to act on the evidence before him, I’m calling on him to charge the arresting officer in this case,” said Mayor Jacob Frey. You can watch it yourself.

What I want to know is, where is the outrage against Mayor Frey? How dare he interfere with the prosecutor’s office. We were just told, a few short months ago, that this was grossly improper. It was an abuse of power. It was like having a King, with absolute power over his subjects. This line of separation was never violated, before Donald Trump. It is just never done. It is unique to Donald Trump. I mean, political interference in the conduct of a criminal prosecution is anathema to a prosecutor’s core mission and sacred obligation to ensure equal justice under the law. Such action shows that we’re living in an autocracy.

Right. When it’s President Trump. But when its the Democratic Mayor of Minneapolis, it’s just fine. Admirable, in fact.

The hypocrisy is clear and glaring. 

I do want to make my position clear. I think that what President Trump did was perfectly fine, and I think what Mayor Frey did was perfectly fine. I do think that Mayor Frey jumped the gun, as we should really see the autopsy report regarding the cause of death before criminal charges are filed.

Of course, Mayor Frey is also an idiot from a liability perspective. Good luck defending the civil case for wrongful death against the Minneapolis P.D. after that admission, even if it turns out to be unfounded. But heck, he’s a Democrat, and they bankrupt everything they touch anyway.

Published in Policing
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 9 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. The Reticulator Member

    Good call.

    • #1
    • May 30, 2020, at 10:28 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. Stad Thatcher

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio…: I do want to make my position clear. I think that what President Trump did was perfectly fine, and I think what Mayor Frey did was perfectly fine. I do think that Mayor Frey jumped the gun, as we should really see the autopsy report regarding the cause of death before criminal charges are filed.

    The rioters wonder why the officer wasn’t arrested 30 seconds after Floyd died. In all likelihood, the DA wants to make damn sure he has his ducks in a row before going forward. If the officer gets off on a technicality because the prosecution rushed to get an indictment? Well, you ain’t seen nothing yet . . .

    • #2
    • May 31, 2020, at 6:09 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. Bob Thompson Member

    I wonder who should be held responsible for all this confusion regarding how our legal system should work?

    • #3
    • May 31, 2020, at 7:17 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. The Reticulator Member

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    I wonder who should be held responsible for all this confusion regarding how our legal system should work?

    I’m always looking for opportunities to blame the news media. 

    • #4
    • May 31, 2020, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Bob Thompson Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    I wonder who should be held responsible for all this confusion regarding how our legal system should work?

    I’m always looking for opportunities to blame the news media.

    Well, lawyers are always prominent on my list.

    • #5
    • May 31, 2020, at 8:44 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. Gary Robbins Reagan

    I am with Andrew McCarthy with this. The officer should have been promptly arrested. https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/05/why-did-it-take-so-long-to-arrest-derek-chauvin/

    • #6
    • May 31, 2020, at 1:06 PM PDT
    • Like
  7. Ontheleftcoast Member

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    I am with Andrew McCarthy with this. The officer should have been promptly arrested. https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/05/why-did-it-take-so-long-to-arrest-derek-chauvin/

    A politician in a state–whose leaders for years capitulated to public employee unions on their contract and pension demands to the tune of over $30 billion in unfunded pension liability–capitulates to a police union about the arrest of an officer whose actions created a major scandal? I’m shocked!

    • #7
    • May 31, 2020, at 1:25 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Headedwest Coolidge

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    I wonder who should be held responsible for all this confusion regarding how our legal system should work?

    When I was in high school (back in the Jurassic Period) this was a piece of our civics course.

    • #8
    • May 31, 2020, at 1:41 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. The Reticulator Member

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    I wonder who should be held responsible for all this confusion regarding how our legal system should work?

    When I was in high school (back in the Jurassic Period) this was a piece of our civics course.

    We have on one hand the ideals laid out in your civics course, and on the other hand the behavior of the top levels of the current FBI. Which to believe?

    • #9
    • May 31, 2020, at 5:59 PM PDT
    • 2 likes