Trump just committed the worst assault on democracy of his presidency by the Forward

Trump just committed the worst assault on democracy of his presidency

Just as the “perfect” phone call came the very day after the release of the Mueller report, President Trump followed up his Senate acquittal with another invitation to worry over the future of the Republic.

Don’t let impeachment fatigue or images of lawyers pushing papers fool you: The uproar at the Justice Department is a greater tear in our national tapestry than the affair d’Ukraine. The strength of authoritarians is dependent on the weakness of the institutions they cannibalize. By that measure, Trump just ate the Department of Justice for lunch. And we should all be nauseous.

The story begins with Roger Stone, a veteran practitioner of the darkest campaign arts. Stone was tried and convicted by a jury of his peers for misleading Congress and witness tampering in connection with the Mueller Investigation.

His punishment will be decided by the judge who heard the case following a recommendation by the prosecutors who tried the case. Judges and prosecutors must take into account the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, a complex series of tables that weighs various factors and spits out a suggested sentence based on what the Supreme Court has called a “very precise calibration of sentences, depending upon a number of factors. These factors relate both to the subjective guilt of the defendant and to the harm caused by his facts.”

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On Monday, the prosecutorial recommendation came through; seven to nine years, matching exactly what the guidelines recommend. Roger Stone got the book thrown at him, but it was all by the book.

Then, all hell broke loose. President Trump tweeted outrage at the miscarriage of justice.

Soon after, the Justice Department submitted a second memo, declining to offer any specific recommendation for prison time but insisting that it be “far less” than its own prior recommendation. While Trump has denied interference, that is a lie; it is clear that his tweet flew straight into Attorney General William Barr’s ear.

Feeling the heat from above, higher ups at DOJ betrayed their prosecutors by fiat. All four of the original prosecutors involved in the case withdrew, with one, Jonathan Kravis, resigning from the DOJ altogether. If there is a legal meritocracy, these attorneys are at its very apex. Their departure as a consequence of a Presidential effort to protect Roger Stone is a fact that hovers between farce and tragedy.

It is true that the Attorney General reports to the President, and that law enforcement falls under the purview of the Executive Branch. But there is authority, and then there is absolutism.

Opinion | Trump just committed the worst assault on democracy of his presidency

The ability to prosecute is an awesome one, and anyone who has been in a courtroom for a criminal case feels that in their bones. If this power is deformed by political interference, it becomes infected. Just as important as the balance of power between branches of government is the righteous tending of power within a branch of the government. Justice is meant to be blind because if its eyes were open to political favoritism and old cronies, our own vision of fairness would be dimmed. On the far side of the Constitution lies Kafka’s Trial.

President Trump has congratulated William Barr for “taking control of the situation,” as if he were the hitman played by Robert DeNiro in The Irishman, but the reality is that this “Tuesday Night Massacre” indicts an Administration that is out of control.

It is part of a larger pattern of a Presidency that leans closer to Banana Republic than Federalist Papers. The firing of Ambassador Gordon Sondland over meek murmurs from his own party and the re-detailing and subsequent threatening of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (and his twin brother, presumably for resembling him) for complying with a Congressional subpoena helpfully illustrate what a purge looks like in twenty-first century American governance. Bernie Sanders may have honeymooned in the Soviet Union, but Donald Trump seems intent on reenacting its greatest authoritarian hits.

Opinion | Trump just committed the worst assault on democracy of his presidency

Trump’s behavior with Ukraine threatened the integrity of our foreign policy and the nature of our elections. What he did this week is a far graver threat, because it strikes at the web of justice that ensnares us all. Nobody should be naïve enough to think that power does not reward friends and punish enemies; that’s how it works. But small men in big chairs can do huge amounts of damage.

Senator Susan Collins expressed the hope that one such man might “learn” from impeachment acquittal, as if it were a survey course on American constitutional history. But here’s the dirty truth: The lessons learned are about how intoxicating it is to wield unimaginable clout, and how light are the constraints that prevent its abuse.

Poof, they’re gone.

Ari Hoffman is a contributing columnist at the Forward.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

Trump just committed the worst assault on democracy of his presidency


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