Recently, an interesting debate erupted on Twitter between Donald Trump (the 45th President of the United States) and his subordinate Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump, who is the head of the executive branch and the boss of Sessions, publicly criticized the Department of Justice, which is not only his right as president, but also his responsibility as the only thin connection tying the ballot box to the DOJ. We should fear a world in which the DOJ, which has the vast power of the FBI and a monopoly over federal prosecutorial authority, does not listen to the voice of its elected master.
Trump said, “I put in an attorney general who never took control of the Justice department.” He then complained that Sessions surrendered control by recusing himself from participating in matters important to the president.
Sessions fired back, writing, “While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”
When our attorney general publicly responds to his boss that he will not “be influenced by political considerations,” one has to wonder whether he means that he feels empowered to ignore the “political consideration” that his boss wants him to manage the DOJ differently. We’re supposed to live in a representative democracy. Under Article II of the Constitution, the voters exercise their control over the government through the president.
Sessions went on to write, “We have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda.” This is a curious statement to be making as a retort to the president’s clear and public statement that he does not believe Sessions is following his wishes.
We should wonder whether this exchange evidences a lack of political control by the voters’ representative over the DOJ. In setting the elected president at the head of the executive branch, the founders were informed by their history, in particular that of the Roman Republic. In 58-50 B.C., Julius Caesar ignored “political considerations” by advancing military campaigns in Gaul for his own glory with little regard to attempts by the Roman Senate to regulate him. In 50 B.C., the Senate feared that Caesar’s success in Gaul might threaten Senate control of Roman Government. Too little, too late, it asserted itself by issuing an order relieving Caesar of command. Caesar instead violated Roman law by crossing the Rubicon and turned his legions against Rome to seize power. Fresh on the minds of the framers of the Constitution would have also been the example of Oliver Cromwell, who took control of England by entering Parliament in 1653 with forty British musketeers and forcefully dissolving it.
Sessions also borrowed a line so often articulated by his Deputy Attorney General, that he is proud of his DOJ for “advancing the rule of law,” which has become code for “resisting the president’s directions.”
Several have observed that the rule of law appears to mean the “rule of two laws,” one for those who oppose Trump and another for those who support him. Paul Manafort might be guilty as sin. But would he have been prosecuted but for his efforts to help Trump? No, according to a very thoughtful piece by K.S. Bruce in Real Clear Life. And the next Manafort trial appears to involve precisely the same thing that Tony Podesta did with no consequence.
As I pointed out in the Federalist, the prosecution against Cohen for “campaign finance violations” appears to be the exact mirror image of what was done on behalf of the Clinton Campaign when Lisa Bloom, the daughter of a Clinton campaign official, arranged or attempted to arrange payments from Clinton donors to women to incentivize them to accuse candidate Trump of sexual misdeeds.
It’s worth revisiting Bre Payton’s list of 16 examples of the left using criminal prosecutions to punish or harass critics and political opponents. While the left repeatedly warns that Trump will prosecute his political enemies, she astutely points out that nearly every prosecution of a political figure in America appears be of an enemy of the left, not Donald Trump.
The DOJ is simply too powerful to allow it to disregard its constitutional master, the president. We should all be concerned when we hear Sessions and others dismiss any need to feel influenced by “political considerations.” When Caesar stopped following the “political considerations” of the Senate, the Roman representative democracy died immediately. Those “political considerations” keep us free.