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Department of Injustice

February 21, 2020

barr and trump

Generations of Americans have known from bitter experience what it’s like when the law isn’t there to protect you, but rather is used to suppress you. Throughout most of US history,  for African-Americans the idea of equal protection under the law was an ironic joke that simply didn’t apply to them. Even during the last half century, when things at last began to improve, arbitrary and capricious law enforcement has remained one of the most powerful weapons deployed to prevent black people from full and equal participation in American society. The same applies to Latinos, Asians, and–above all–native Americans.

For the most part, white people in this country have had no similar experiences. A relative few were persecuted unjustly during the Red Scare after WWI and again during McCarthy’s commie hunts in the early 50s. Perhaps the closest analog has been the use of the law in targeting gays, but even there it was possible for most people to avoid running afoul of the law by staying in the closet or on the downlow.

Now, I think some white people are beginning to feel a chill of fear that for the first time in their lifetimes, the law could be used systematically as an instrument of oppression against them–this time not based on race, but for political opposition. Or not even for that, but simply for disloyalty and lèse majesté against Donald Trump.

I don’t mean to imply that what is happening now in any way approaches the systematic denial of rights and outright terrorism applied for centuries to African-Americans and other people of color. Yet.

But watching William Barr’s Department of Justice act in obedience to Trump’s explicit or implicit direction, just how sure do you feel now that those anti-Trump Facebook posts, or tweets, or blogs that you’ve been putting out there on the Internet will never be used against you? It has happened in many countries of the world. Why should the US be immune?

What is happening now at main DOJ remains only partially visible to the public, but we can see enough to be legitimately alarmed. Trump is telling Barr–directly or indirectly–what he wants done on cases that involve his supporters or his purported enemies, and Barr shows every indication that he is complying. Trump tweets and Barr hops to it. Indeed, Trump is now openly calling himself the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.

Last spring, at Trump’s insistence, Barr launched an investigation into the origins of the Mueller probe, designed explicitly to expose it as a Democrat-led plot against Trump. Investigations have been directed against key FBI officials like James Comey and Andrew McCabe, as well as others. Barr’s very public “rebuke” that Trump’s tweets make it difficult to do his job, appears to be merely a complaint that the tweets reveal precisely what he’s doing and why.  He has shown no reluctance to carry out directives to recommend reduced sentences for convicted Trumpians like Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.

As of September 2019, there were no less than 10 federal investigations dealing with Trump’s businesses and political activities.  It’s now unclear if these are still active or have become dormant or simply ended. Barr, of course, is in a position to kill any of them or transfer them to another venue where they are less likely ever to come to fruition. There are now some disturbing signs that this may be happening. On February 17, DOJ sent out a memo stating that decisions on all “matters relating to Ukraine, including the opening of any new investigations or the expansion of existing ones” would be transferred from the famously independent Southern District of New York to the rival Eastern District in Brooklyn. The memo adds that “any widening or expansion of existing matters should require prior consultation” with the Deputy Attorney General in main DOJ or the US Attorney in Brooklyn.

Among these matters “relating to Ukraine” are the activities of Rudy Giuliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who are currently under indictment. What this means exactly is uncertain, but it is very unusual and quite suspicious, especially in light of everything else happening at DOJ.

There is an obvious pattern here, even more blatant since the Senate voted not to convict Trump, who has retaliated against everyone who testified to Congress–and even people who didn’t. On February 19, Trump forced the resignation of the Pentagon policy official, John Rood, whose certification of Ukraine freed the military aid that Trump had withheld. At the same time, he is reveling in his power of the pardon, which he wields in a grossly symbolic way: a racist Arizona sheriff, a war criminal, a Wall Street mogul convicted of tax evasion and securities fraud, a corrupt New York City police commissioner, a corrupt former Democratic governor, a Texas construction firm owner who donated $200,000 to Trump election campaign and is pals with Don Jr., a former Bush aide convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, a software executive who hacked into a rival’s computer, etc. The message here is that none of this stuff is really wrong. And of course, they all had connections in TrumpWorld. And they’re mostly rich and white.

The simple lesson is that if you oppose Trump he will go after you, but if you remain loyal and silent he might let you out of jail. So far, he has not pardoned any of his erstwhile henchmen convicted as a result of the Mueller probe, but it’s a pretty good bet that at least some will get sprung after November 3, if not before.

Trump has removed the pardon process from the office in DOJ that had reviewed cases, and put it in the hands of a group in the White House led by Jared Kushner and Pam Bondi. As the Washington Post pointed out, “as attorney general of Florida, Bondi once took an illegal $25,000 contribution from Trump’s foundation for her PAC and then dropped an investigation into Trump University.”

Trump has always used the legal system to try to crush small contractors and others who he stiffed in his businesses and who couldn’t afford the legal fees to oppose him in litigation. Why would anyone expect him to act differently when he has the awesome power of federal law enforcement in his pocket?

The fact that more than 2,000 former justice department officials have called for Barr to resign should be more than enough to convince us of the seriousness of the problem. These are not people inclined to hysteria or to making gratuitous accusations.

Are you in good hands?

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