An independent judiciary

Matthew Miller was the Justice Department’s public affairs boffin for a couple of years in the Obama administration. He explains why firing an Attorney General is not such a brilliant plan.

Under long-standing traditions in administrations of both parties, the attorney general is charged with enforcing the law free from political interference from the White House. This standard of independence, unique among Cabinet members, is designed to insulate questions of law from inappropriate political pressure, and presidents and attorneys general who have violated that standard have typically paid a grave price for doing so.

I guess no one explained that to Trump? Maybe no one who works for him is even aware of it?

It’s really not a good look to fire an AG for saying an order may be unlawful.

But then it’s also not a good look to issue a sweeping Executive Order without taking any legal advice. Trump and his minions literally seem to think he can Order any damn thing he wants to.

The legality of the underlying executive order is hotly debated. Four federal judges have already halted the administration from enforcing various aspects of it, and people affected by the ban continue to bring new lawsuits. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel did apparently approve the order on the narrow basis of “form and legality,” but since the Trump administration has not released a copy of the office’s opinion or answered questions about whether it raised any objections, we do not know the extent of its analysis.

They think he can Order any damn thing he wants to and do it as secretively and arbitrarily as he wants to.

But whatever one thinks about the executive order, the more fundamental issue is that in this case the decision whether to defend it in court rested not with the president, but with the attorney general. When Yates raised her objections to the order, she noted that she remained open to being convinced of its legality. The White House, which did not consult with her or other Cabinet members in drafting the order, could have worked with her to make changes that would satisfy her concerns about its legality. Instead, the president chose crisis and chaos.

Because he’s a Malignant Narcissist, and he cannot stand being “disobeyed.”

The White House’s statement announcing her firing revealed the political nature of Trump’s decision. It accused Yates — a career prosecutor with 25 years experience of putting violent criminals behind bars — of having betrayed the Justice Department. Instead of even attempting to wrestle with any questions of the attorney general’s proper role, the White House attacked Yates as being “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.”

Earlier on Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer had announced that career State Department officials who disagreed with the president’s immigration order should “either get with the program or they can go.” In its attack on Yates, the White House made clear the president expects the same level of quiet obeisance from his attorney general.

He expects it from everyone.

But the thing is, as with the tax returns and the conflicts of interest and so much else, none of this is statutory – it’s a matter of custom. Trump could not give less of a fuck about what is custom.

Trump’s actions on Monday have now raised the ante for the Senate. Recusal might have previously been enough to put to rest concerns about Sessions’s independence, but now that Trump has made clear he expects his attorney general to follow orders without questioning them, the Senate must respond by rejecting that notion and showing it will confirm only someone who is truly independent. Sessions does not clear that bar.

There is no law that establishes the Justice Department’s independence. Like many democratic norms, it has rested on faithful adherence by committed public servants, attorneys who are willing to make independent judgments, and the oversight of Congress and the free press. Trump just made clear that he does not respect this tradition. It now falls to the rest of us to show that we do.

I hope we can.

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