President Donald Trump has ruffled yet more feathers in the past two weeks by serving up his opinions on the Justice Department and the Supreme Court. The president’s critics say his actions are an assault on democratic institutions and a tipping of the scales of justice. His allies argue that the president has every right to express his discontent with elements of the judicial system after the farce of the last three years.
Trump kicked off his feud with the DoJ by weighing on federal prosecutors’ recommended seven-to-nine-year sentence for political consultant Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering. The president and conservative media allies denounced the sentence as too harsh for a non-violent crime — Trump snidely referred to the DoJ as the ‘“Justice” Department’.The DoJ eventually rescinded the recommendation, though Attorney General Bill Barr insisted they decided to do so prior to Trump’s tweets.
A group of federal prosecutors resigned from the Stone case after the DoJ reversed the sentencing recommendations, but Trump didn’t stop there. He went on to knock Obama-appointed Judge Amy Berman-Jackson and the lead juror Tomeka Hart, for alleged bias against him and his allies. Trump noted on Twitter that Judge Jackson was also responsible for placing former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in solitary confinement. Jackson also refused to grant Stone a mistrial, despite anti-Trump posts on Hart’s social media pages and alleged untruthfulness about her level of awareness with Stone’s case.
‘It makes Watergate look like child’s play,’ Nick Ackerman, a former Watergate prosecutor, said about the president’s alleged politicization of the DoJ.
Conservative lawyer and political analyst Joe diGenova, however, claims that the president has every right to comment on the case under his status as the chief law enforcement officer of the US.
‘He has the duty to see that the laws of this country are faithfully executed,’ diGenova told The Spectator. ‘He is in charge of the Department of Justice…if people don’t like that, they can resign.’
In fact, diGenova said he would have fired the prosecutors who stepped down from the case, declaring that they ‘should not serve one day longer’ in government at all because it is not within their authority to decide which cases are and are not valid.
‘Their behavior was disgraceful. They chose to subvert the line of authority,’ diGenova said, adding that the prosecutors’ actions were ‘arrogant, destructive, and thoroughly unprofessional’.
Although the president may have the support of his allies in the media, his refusal to remain silent about the Stone case seemed to create a bit of a riff with Barr, his so-called ‘enabler-in-chief’. The AG asserted in an interview that Trump’s tweets made it ‘impossible’ for him to do his job, and added that he would not be ‘bullied or influenced by anybody’. The Washington Post even reported that Barr was telling people close to the president that he was considering resigning over the constant tweets.
Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser to the Trump campaign, pointed out that Barr ‘serves at the pleasure of the president’ as Trump is in charge of the DoJ:
‘The attorney general serves at the pleasure of the president, and has authority to intervene in any case his office brings, as he is tasked with ensuring that the interests of justice and actual justice is served in criminal prosecutions…Trump here is showing great restraint by allowing due process to play out rather than stepping in immediately. However, Trump also is a private citizen, and has full rights to comment on any ongoing matter in the media or of public concern.’
The suggestion? Barr may not like it, but it’s unlikely Trump will stop sharing his thoughts on the DoJ and its cases any time soon.
On Monday night the president once more ventured outside of the executive branch, opting instead to comment on the Supreme Court.
‘I just thought it was so inappropriate, such a terrible statement for a Supreme Court justice,’ Trump said. ‘She’s trying to shame people with perhaps a different view into voting her way, and that’s so inappropriate.’
Trump’s comment relates to Justice Sotomayor’s dissent on a SCOTUS case upholding the administration’s ‘public charge’ rule for immigrants. In her dissent, Sotomayor suggested her conservative colleagues on the bench have been biased toward the Trump administration in a series of decisions, writing that those justices are ‘putting a thumb on the scale in favor of the party that won’ and favoring ‘one litigant over all others’.
There is no debate over whether the president has any jurisdiction or control over SCOTUS, but politicos and activists still wondered whether Trump’s jabs at Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg were appropriate. (RBG was called out for unfavorable comments she made about Trump several years ago and has since apologized for).
‘More vicious attacks on Supreme Court justices’, law professor Richard Painter warned. ‘This man is a threat to the rule of law. He needs to go.’
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz did not speak directly to the president’s comments during a Senate Judiciary hearing, instead flipping the script on Sotomayor’s criticism of conservative justices. He alleged the Supreme Court wouldn’t have to rule on so many nationwide injunctions — which are likely to go in the president’s favor as he is exercising his executive powers — if activist judges on lower courts didn’t keep issuing them.
‘I believe we have a handful of judges who are operating effectively as part of the resistance movement, putting themselves in the way of Trump policies they happen to disagree with,’ Cruz claimed.
As the president continues to voice his views on justice, the administration is reportedly working on a way to revise the FISA process to prevent further abuse of the system. An Inspector General report released in December found that the FBI had misled the FISA court in obtaining a warrant to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, spurring calls from conservatives to nuke or at least reform the program.
The cases of Roger Stone, Carter Page and Trump’s own immigration policy may have sparked the president’s fury because they threaten his friends or his policies, but how much does that matter if they also reveal a corrupt and biased system?
‘’The president has every right to be angry and to comment on it,’ diGenova said. ‘If people don’t like it, there’s an election coming up.’