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Your Own, Personal, Roy Cohn


It’s not easy to find a worse Attorney General than Jeff Sessions, but Trump can pull it off without any needless loss of executive time:

If you study literature of democratic backsliding, the frightening conclusion is that nobody has devised a system of laws comprehensive enough to guarantee the survival of a democratic government. Because there is always wiggle room in the execution and enforcement of the law, democracies rely on informal norms. One of those norms is the independence of federal law enforcement, without which, the ruling party could use the law as a weapon against its enemies while shielding itself.

Of course, presidents have the leeway to choose their own Attorney General. It is mere tradition that dictates that the Attorney General, once selected, operate at arm’s length from the president’s political interests. There is simply no doubt that Trump’s entire rationale for firing Sessions is his refusal to quash the Russia investigation, because he has not even bothered to conceal his motive. Trump has repeatedly lambasted Sessions for failing to “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now.” Sessions is an original Trump loyalist, an unusually committed believer in and effective implementer of the president’s ethnonationalist agenda on immigration and crime. Sessions’s sole failure (in Trump’s eyes) was having to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, and refusing Trump’s demands to reverse the decision. Corruption is literally Trump’s only motive for turning against him.

What’s more, he has frequently expressed the overarching ethos with which the Department should operate. Trump told the New York Times that President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, covered up what Trump claims to be multiple serious crimes by Obama and that this is the correct way for him to operate. “Holder protected the president,” he said. “And I have great respect for that, I’ll be honest, I have great respect for that.” At other times, reaching for a more familiar example, he wished the Attorney General would be “my Roy Cohn,” referring to the architect of Joe McCarthy’s notorious smears, who went on to mentor Trump.

Trump has every reason to believe that he has found his Roy Cohn in Whitaker. The archconservative new Acting Attorney General has run for office and appears to see his future in Republican politics. As a candidate, he publicly declared that judges should be “people of faith” who had “a biblical view of justice.” In practical terms, he has interpreted the biblical view of justice the way most of his fellow Christian conservatives do: a combination of stern, Old Testament punishments meted out to Democrats combined with New Testament forgiveness toward any sin by a Republican.

Whitaker has publicly attacked the FBI for failing to indict Hillary Clinton for using a personal email. He defended Donald Trump Jr.’s decision to meet with a Russian operative promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. He opposed the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russian election interference (“Hollow calls for independent prosecutors are just craven attempts to score cheap political points and serve the public in no measurable way.”) Whitaker has called on Rod Rosenstein to curb Mueller’s investigation, and specifically declared Trump’s finances (which include dealings with Russia) off-limits. He has urged Trump’s lawyers not to cooperate with Mueller’s “lynch mob”…

I suspect Mueller has built up enough sandbags to protect his investigation, but what’s scary is what else Trump’s post-midterm DOJ might be capable of.

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