I could headline this as an Ethics Dunce, an Unethical Quote, a “Stop making me defend Donald Trump” or even a KABOOM!, but it’s really a Popeye. The upcoming statement by Matt Miller, previously a spokesperson for the Holder Justice Department, could be easily ignored—who the hell is Matt Miller?—except that it breaks my chutzpah meter, and more than that, is designed to be recirculated as an indignant talking point by Democrats who haven’t cracked a history book since they were 12, or who are just plain liars.
After the Justice Department announced that it was taking another look at Hilary Clinton’s shenanigans with her secret email server (and perhaps the Clinton Foundation), Miller told The Daily Beast (echoing Holder, who has made similar statements),
“The president’s ongoing campaign to tear down the wall between the Justice Department and the White House seems to be working.”
Wall between the White House and the Justice Department? If there had been such a “wall,” President Kennedy obliterated it in 1960 when he appointed his brother as Attorney General while Bobby was also serving as JFK’s primary political advisor. Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, had been the director of Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign, and was one of Nixon’s closest personal friends. Ronald Reagan’s second Attorney General was his longtime friend and political aide Ed Meese, who had previously served as Reagan’s Chief of Staff! Some wall!
George W. Bush appointed Alberto Gonzalez, who was his close friend and who had been Bush’s General Counsel during his governorship of Texas, as his second Attorney General. Eric Holder, meanwhile, was one of the most blatantly and shamelessly partisan AGs ever, combatively refusing to perform independent investigations of multiple Obama administration scandals, and flagrantly matching Justice Department policies with the Obama political agenda.
Not only is Miller’s assertion of a “wall” an insult to the intelligence of anyone who has been paying attention, but to have a member of Holder’s gang make such a claim is too much to bear. Naturally, Daily Beast partisan hack Betsy Woodruff lacks the competence and integrity to point out the history I just did. How many Daily Beast readers do you think thought about how cynically deceptive Miller’s comment was?
All this being true, it is also true that there should be a virtual wall between the White House and Justice, and the fact that so many Presidents have turned Justice into a political arm of the White House has created an ongoing danger to our democracy, rule of law, and the public trust. The President can hire his own lawyers, and there is a White House Counsel. The Senate should always require that an Attorney General nominee have no personal or professional ties at all to the President, unlike Jeff Sessions, for example, who was a member of the Trump campaign. AGs should also have an impeccable legal resume and record for ethical practice, unlike Eric Holder, who infamously facilitated Bill Clinton’s pardon-for-pay-but-you’ll-never-prove-it of fugitive tycoon Marc Rich.
The fact that Holder’s Justice Department was tainted by political conflicts and repeated partisan actions places the Trump Justice Department in an impossible position. Most of the American public believes that the fix was in on the Hillary investigation, and that her treatment proves that in the U.S., “laws are for the little people.” The way to prove that our Rule of Law is blind to power, wealth and friends in high places would have been for a Democratic Justice Department to aggressively investigate Clinton’s many machinations and lies, and there is striking evidence that it did not. If the Trump Justice Department tries to address this breach of public trust, any investigation and related action can be plausibly attacked as a Republican President trying to punish a political adversary. If it does not do what the previous Justice Department should have done—you know, enforce the law?—, the public trust is permanently wounded, and rightly so. Clinton and Clinton get away with everything–again.
I don’t like either scenario, and prefer neither. We would not be in this position, however, if the “wall” between the White House and Justice hasn’t been torn down and never fully restored…57 years ago.