Re: Policy Brief No. 35
Policy Summary: After the Watergate scandal in the 1970’s President Jimmy Carter and his Attorney General Griffin Bell instituted policies that restricted communications between White House personnel and Department of Justice (DOJ) personnel. The intent was to permit DOJ personnel to carry out the duty of their positions without immediate political or partisan pressures. The policies have varied slightly with each Administration but the core of the communication restriction policies have remained the same – that communications from the White House to and about DOJ are to be limited regarding pending or potential criminal or civil investigations or cases. On January 27, 2017, White House Counsel Don McGahn issued a memorandum to all White House staff titled “Communications Restrictions With Personnel at the Department of Justice” that addressed these kinds of communications. LEARN MORE
Analysis: The words, actions and tweets of President Trump have run roughshod over this decades long policy. As a result of his feud with Attorney General Jeff Sessions at DOJ, displeasure with James Comey at FBI and unpredictable twitter storms, the President has eroded confidence in DOJ and FBI as agencies that would pursue justice in an even handed manner and apply it equally to all persons and parties. The rationale underpinning the restricted communications policy with DOJ is to ensure that any case or investigation brought is done according to standard procedures without regard to who the person is being prosecuted or investigated. And the communications restriction policies were designed to reduce the pressure of partisan politics on cases and investigations. However, President Trump has instead used Twitter to spew questionable comments about what cases DOJ are and are not pursuing. For the last year he has specifically asked why certain cases aren’t being brought (a crooked Hillary investigation, other Democrats and investigation of Andrew McCabe). These tweets by Trump are a serious ethical breach because of how it undermines the independence of the department. There are also his direct insults aimed at former FBI Director James Comey. The President seems intent on having a Department of Justice that pursues cases only he approves of and an FBI that investigates only those cases he personally wants investigated. This is not how a President is supposed to ensure the independence of these agencies. The President appoints personnel to lead the department but the lawyers and prosecutors have full independence to pursue and prosecute cases. Politics is not supposed to be a part of whether a case succeeds or not. With his ignoring of Counsel Don McGahn’s memorandum and relentless attacks on the Department of Justice and the personnel of the FBI, President Trump and his Twitter account have done the very thing that the restriction of communications policy should have done – he has politicized cases and investigations at these agencies and given the impression that they should be loyal only to President Trump. Even to the point of looking away from President Trump’s scandals, which would imply that this President is above the law. It remains to be seen if these two agencies can resist the politicization and unwarranted personal attacks by this complicated President. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE
Protect Democracy – non – profit group infopage on the danger of White House communications with independent federal agencies.
Democracy Fund – group that invests in organizations that seeks to strengthen American democracy and protect her institutions.
This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.