Upon taking office in January, Joe Biden’s administration promised to “bring transparency and truth back to the government.” No one seems to have told Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Two weeks ago, the attorney general decided to weaponize the FBI against parents speaking out at school board meetings when he issued a memorandum directing an investigation of a “disturbing spike” in alleged harassment and threats. Neither the memo nor any Department of Justice spokesperson cited any examples or evidence of this alleged spike to justify treating parents speaking to their school boards like terrorists.
Now, according to reporting from The American Prospect, Garland and the White House have been obscuring the political leadership of the Office of Legal Policy (OLP), one of the most powerful offices in the executive branch.
Susan Davies, a former corporate lawyer who spent years defending Facebook from antitrust lawsuits and regulatory scrutiny, has apparently been running the OLP since September 3, and will continue to do so until a permanent replacement is confirmed by the Senate. Remarkably, it took multiple Freedom of Information Act requests and queries over a span of roughly six months for the American Prospect to shake this information loose.
The presence of Davies, and her role as senior official and deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy, was only added to the OLP’s website on October 7, a day before the information was shared with American Prospect. The obvious question is: Why was it hidden in the first place?
As American Prospect put it, “How is this secrecy even possible? Was Davies secretly working at DOJ in some other capacity before September 3? And are other officials whose presence has been kept from the public secretly calling the shots within DOJ?”
It’s not like Davies is playing an insignificant role. The OLP, housed at DOJ, is the clearinghouse for virtually every action the department takes. It also advises the Office of Management and Budget on regulatory development and plays a major role in selecting judicial nominees. And Davies isn’t simply working there. She’s running the place.
Why would the DOJ go to lengths to avoid disclosing this information? Perhaps because Davies’ long history of representing corporate clients, including Facebook, might raise some eyebrows over how her work might conflict with the stated priorities of the Biden administration, particularly its stated desire to take on the Big Tech platforms.
Davies was reportedly one of Garland’s preferred choices to lead the DOJ’s antitrust division, the office tasked with bringing and litigating the government’s major antitrust cases. In other words, Garland wanted a former Facebook attorney to be the one who decided whether to bring cases against the country’s major tech platforms—and to continue overseeing the DOJ’s case against Google, to boot. Seems dubious.
Perhaps for that reason, the nomination instead went to antitrust lawyer Jonathan Kanter, instead, whose deep experience representing litigants against the country’s tech giants won him plaudits and respect from both Republicans and Democrats. Garland appears to have installed Davies within DOJ anyway, but would apparently prefer to avoid revealing her presence and role in leading a major hub of policy development for DOJ and across the government.
Who is really running the Department of Justice? The administration that pledged to bring “transparency and truth back to government” evidently doesn’t want you to know.