Bruce’s observations on some of the most recent, disgraceful conduct of Trump and Barr, and of the heroism of some of our career public servants in reaction to that conduct, from the perspective of one who served as a DOJ prosecutor for eleven years during the Reagan, Bush (41) and Clinton administrations.
For whatever it may be worth, here are some observations on some of the most recent, disgraceful conduct of Trump and Barr, and of the heroism of some of our career public servants in reaction to that conduct, from the perspective of one who served as a DOJ prosecutor for eleven years during the Reagan, Bush (41) and Clinton administrations.
Ironically, Trump may be correct about one thing. The sentencing guidelines for Roger Stone, as for most defendants charged in white-collar criminal cases in federal court, are Draconian. Mr. Stone’s conduct consisted of serious violations of U.S. laws; a sentence of seven to nine years is a severe sentence under most circumstances. But prosecutors take advantage of these harsh guidelines every day in making sentencing recommendations, much to the frustration of defense attorneys like myself, and neither a president nor an attorney general has ever seemed to show any interest in intervening on behalf of these miserable souls. Their attitude has always seemed to be, “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” Yet now, when the investigation centers around a corrupt president and his cohorts, after centuries of institutional disinterest, the decisions of dedicated, career prosecutors are now being undermined by presidential fiat (by tweet) and by a toady Attorney General acting as a one-man Greek chorus for the man who employs him, his daughter (at Treasury) and his son-in-law (at the White House Counsel’s office). Of course, this almost unprecedented executive interference in a criminal matter is merely paving the way (after the election, of course) for Trump’s inevitable pardon of Stone for having his back and keeping his (Stone’s) mouth shut. I say “almost” because the notable exception to this tradition was Nixon’s notorious “Saturday Night Massacre.”
Like a lot of my former DOJ colleagues, I have been heartsick over Barr’s disgraceful tenure, enabling Trump to violate the rule of law seemingly at every turn. The one silver lining, though, is that the career professionals, like their counterparts at the State Department last year during the House investigations, showed the world the character of the good people who make up our government. I am so proud of the prosecutors who basically told Barr and Trump to pound sand and either resigned from the case or from the department completely. Their conduct will stand as an example to all the good people who serve us now, and to all those that will come after them.
Years ago, one of my mentors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office described for me the night Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy A.G. Bill Ruckelshaus walked into the Great Hall of the Justice Department and bid their farewells to their colleagues after refusing to bend to Nixon’s will. My boss described the mass of DOJ humanity crammed into that hall and the surrounding balconies, and how people who loved the department alternately wept and cheered with pride and respect for those courageous prosecutors for standing up to what was then the grossest abuse to date of presidential power. That evening has since become the stuff of legend at the department. Trump and Barr have little appreciation for what they may have unleashed this week at our Justice Department.
Unfortunately, the level of presidential abuse hit several new lows this week. I was so gratified to see these prosecutors follow in the tradition of Richardson, Ruckelshaus and the wonderful public servants who recently testified in Congress during the impeachment investigations. As long as we have good people like them, we can hope that somehow, we will survive this national nightmare of Trumpism and Barr injustice. Those good folks are the only thing keeping honesty and decency alive in our government. Thomas Jefferson told us the formula for maintaining that standard when he wrote, “the whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.” Thank goodness most of that whole consists of public servants of character like these prosecutors and not like the cowardly sycophants that populate most of the Senate Republican caucus and Trump’s bootlicking department heads.