Harry Litman, Tribune News Service
Call it DOJ derangement syndrome. Almost as soon as Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the appointment of a special counsel to provide independent, nonpartisan oversight of criminal investigations related to Donald Trump, Republicans started screaming.
The appointment in itself, they said, demonstrated the Department of Justice’s corruption and politicisation. But be assured, if Garland hadn’t named a special counsel, they would have screamed bloody murder as well.
An “outrage,” harrumphed Trump, predictably. But more tellingly, the new Republican majority fell right in line.
The GOP House Judiciary Committee faction, which will be charged with overseeing the Justice Department in the coming Congress, tweeted that “Jack Smith and his buddies have been politicising Washington for AGES. And he’s who AG Garland picked to be the special counsel to ‘investigate’ President Trump? Come on.”
Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a likely 2024 presidential candidate, opined that the special counsel appointment was “not good news” for the country.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said Trump’s just announced 2024 presidential candidacy — which for most observers is the “extraordinary circumstance” required for the appointment of a special prosecutor — made Garland’s action “problematic.”
MAGA banner-carrier Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, called for the House in the next Congress to cut off funding for the investigation. All this before special counsel Jack Smith had a chance to do anything other than accept his new job.
The last few weeks have provided ample indication of a Republican Party ambivalent about Trump’s continuing influence and looking for ways to gingerly distance itself from his MAGA lunacy. But apparently nobody in the party doesn’t love giving the Justice Department a hard time.
Every move the department makes, and will make over the next two years, will be fodder for the hard-right talking point that a shady and dishonest DOJ has substituted for its basic law enforcement mission an obsession with collecting Republican scalps. If Garland changes the carpet in his office, it will prompt a congressional investigation. “Jack Smith and his buddies.” What does that even mean except an attack on the whole of the department?
Smith, a registered independent, is a career prosecutor who has honorably worked at the state, federal and international level. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has never been in the same room with Garland.
If Republicans will twist a low-profile. broadly respected nonpartisan voter like Smith into a political hack, whom would they not deform to fit their pre-selected narrative? Maybe only a prominent Republican, former Marine and FBI director, avatar of prosecutorial integrity such as Robert S. … er, never mind.
Friday’s pile-on reveals that the GOP is working from an already formulated script that neither facts nor the law can change. For the rest of Joe Biden’s first term, the most orthodox or routine Justice Department decision will be flogged as a political scandal, with no regard for the specific merits of the cases. It’s just who Republicans are now: transparently politicising and hyperpartisan actors.
Their stance is not only deranged, it is fundamentally dishonest. These Republicans demonize Garland notwithstanding that any honest broker or Washington insider — including many of them — fully understands that Garland’s integrity, fair-mindedness and commitment to justice without fear or favour are beyond reproach, and that the investigations and potential prosecution of Trump is driven, indeed required, by a commitment to equal justice under law.
For that reason, former Attorney General William Barr’s acknowledgment of the bona fides of a potential prosecution growing out of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago conduct did a solid for the department, going beyond personal score-settling. On Friday on PBS’ “Firing Line,” he said the Justice Department probably has a “basis for legitimately indicting” Trump over documents found at the former president’s Florida residence.
The investigation and prosecution of a US president or a former president poses intrinsic challenges, but it’s something that a mature democracy has to be able to take on, a lesson that Watergate drove home nearly 50 years ago.
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