Don't let Trump use Justice Department to serve his ends

President Donald Trump’s jihad against his own Justice Department, and its attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is a daily drumbeat of disinformation. For more than a year Trump has directed grievances against the Justice Department for its investigation of the president’s 2016 campaign and possible collusion with the Russian government.

On Monday Trump escalated his self-serving attacks. In his Labor Day Twitter assault, Trump wrote, "Obama era investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well-publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff..."

Trump was complaining about indictments of House of Representatives members Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York. Hunter stands accused of misappropriating $250,000 of his campaign funds for personal expenses. Collins faces charges of insider trading of investments. Both have pleaded not guilty. Collins has suspended his re-election campaign. Hunter remains a candidate for re-election.

Trump’s tweet asserts that the rule of law that strives for “equal justice” should be rewritten, providing instead political advantage and protection to loyalists and punishing foes. It underscores Trump’s complete disregard for the independence of Justice Department’s nonpartisan handling of criminal and civil investigations.

The use of the phrase “this is a new low” for Trump’s administration is becoming a cliché. However, that Labor Day tweet was a new, and dangerous, low. It showed that in Trump World, “justice” is defined as a weapon used to promote and protect the interests of Donald Trump and his political supporters.

Trump’s Labor Day tweet drew a chorus of criticism from legal scholars, Democrats, and even a few Republicans. GOP Senators Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham expressed regret.

Particularly pointed were Sasse’s comments. "These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the President was when the investigations began,” said Sasse, of Nebraska. “Instead of commenting on ongoing investigations and prosecutions, the job of the President of the United States is to defend the Constitution and protect the impartial administration of justice."

It is not the job of this president, apparently. Acting in his own self-interest is the way this president perceives his job. Trump has long scolded Sessions for recusing himself from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s federal investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign. Trump has on many occasions publicly called on Sessions to investigate Hillary Clinton and other perceived Trump enemies.

Keeping Republicans in control of Congress protects this president from the growing threat of impeachment. If that means defending the re-election of a couple of GOP House members by ignoring their alleged criminal behavior, that’s OK with Trump.

And it seems that’s OK too with the congressional Republican majority as well. Despite the muttered objections from senators Collins, Sasse, Corker et al, Republicans are doing nothing to curb Trump’s excessive and abusive behavior. The constitutional mandate that Congress act as a check on the president is out to lunch with the GOP.

Oh, and that part about these being Obama-era investigations, it is at best a partial lie. Politifact reports that, “All public evidence suggests Collins’ investigation began under Trump, not Obama. What’s more, the charges he faces stem from a phone call made in June 2017, months after Trump took office and … Sessions, was confirmed.”

The timing involving Hunter is less clear, though Politico reports “the first news reports that Hunter was under criminal investigation appear to have surfaced in March 2017, during Trump’s presidency.”

But Trump is not one to let facts get in the way of feeding his base by tying the investigations to Obama. Another “Deep State” conspiracy, apparently.

Donald Trump demonstrates daily that he is unfit to hold the office of president of the United States. The temptation is to become numb to the nonstop outrages and embarrassments of this undisciplined man.

However, the president’s belief that the Justice Department should be at his disposal to protect his supporters and punish his foes is a particularly dangerous turn of events. Congress, whether in the control of Democrats or Republicans, must assert itself to contain the man in the White House.

The concept of equal justice under the law is a proud national standard. As a country sometimes we fall short of achieving that lofty goal. But as a nation built on ideals, we must never stop striving to get there. Today that means preventing Trump from undermining that ideal.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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