Last week, federal prosecutors recommended a sentence of seven to nine years for long-time Trump confidant Roger Stone, who was indicted on charges of witness tampering and obstruction of justice in January 2019. Upon learning of the sentencing recommendation, President Trump tweeted about the “horrible and very unfair situation,” adding, “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice.” When later that day the Department of Justice offered a revised sentencing memorandum — stating that the original sentence was “extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses” — all four prosecuting attorneys withdrew from the case.
To some Americans this series of events was of little consequence. Roger Stone, a nonviolent, first-time offender, was convicted by a poorly-vetted jury on charges of lying to Congress and recommended for a bloated term on the high end of the sentencing spectrum. The DOJ, headed by Attorney General William Barr — whose job it is to seek justice by recommending the applicable enhancements and reductions in sentencing — recognized the incongruity between Stone’s offenses and his punishment and offered a more appropriate, non-binding sentencing recommendation. In the interim, President Trump mouthed off on social media because that’s what Trump does.
For other Americans, though, this was the latest in a terrifying saga of presidential abuse by a tyrannical despot bent on subverting the rule of law for his own personal and political gain. Last Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) suggested that Trump would prefer America to be a dictatorship in which “the Justice Department is the president’s law firm — not a defender of the rule of law.” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) characterized the events as a “direct attack on our rule of law” and claimed that Trump was “normalizing this attack on the independence of the justice system.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) complained, “He thinks he’s above the law. He has no respect for the rule of law. But where are the Republicans to speak out on this blatant violation of the rule of law?”
Where are the Democrats who spoke out against former President Barack Obama when he asserted executive privilege to shield Attorney General Eric Holder from indictment amid the fallout from Operation Fast and Furious? Where were the Democrats to speak out about the infamous tarmac meeting between former President Bill Clinton and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch in 2016, days before the FBI decided not to recommend charges against his wife for her improper usage of a private email server? Where were they in the ’60s, when President Kennedy appointed his brother attorney general?
Democrats have no credibility to wield in decrying the politicization of the Justice Department. Adam Schiff called the criticism of Eric Holder for his part in Operation Fast and Furious “politically motivated attacks” and “a meritless distraction.” Pelosi suggested in 2012 that the bipartisan vote to hold Holder in contempt of Congress was merely a politically motivated voter suppression scheme by Republicans. For Democrats, it is only a violation of the rule of law if the president is a Republican and only a political attack if the president in question is a Democrat. The politicization of the DOJ did not begin with Donald Trump, and it will not end with his administration because Democrats feign indignation for the camera.
In the case of Roger Stone, the prosecution did not run the sentencing recommendation up the flagpole to the heads of the DOJ. If Barr had actually signed off on the recommendation before Trump commented and then changed it afterward, that would be the legitimate appearance of impropriety. This was not the case. And even in such a scenario, the president — as the head of the unitary executive branch — has the authority to influence the policy decisions of his own Justice Department, even if it does seem to compromise the department’s quasi-independence. If you don’t like that, we have elections for this express purpose.
This is a truth Democrats will continue to disregard as they leave no stone unturned in search of the coup de grace for the Trump presidency. There was no corruption here — just Bill Barr doing his job and Trump rashly tweeting in a fit of pique (a habit which Barr firmly suggested last week the president ought to kick) — and no conduct which Democrats have not defended in the past when the behavior in question pertained to one of their own. These are petty political games. Then, now and forever. President Trump should make his attorney general’s job easier and leave the commentary to the pundits, and Democrats should stop pretending that everything wrong with politics began in the Age of Trump.
Kevin Catapano is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.