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Scenes from the “Weaponization” of the Department of Justice

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George III of England, National Galleries of Scotland, via Wikimedia Commons

From Political Wire:

Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. was interviewed by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press:

TODD: Why didn’t you charge the hush money case? Why didn’t you ever charge it in 2018, 2019, 2020?

VANCE: Well Chuck, I don’t want to get into the deliberations that might be covered by grand jury material, but it’s, but as I believe you know, I was asked by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District to stand down on our investigation, which had commenced involving the Trump Organization. And as, you know, as someone who respects that office a great deal, and believing that they may have perhaps the best laws to investigate, I did so. And I was somewhat surprised after Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty that the federal government did not proceed on the areas in which it asked me to stand down.

Anonymous sources have told the New York Times that the U.S. Attorney’s Office failed to indict Trump because it feared that Cohen wouldn’t make for a “credible” witness. That’s not inconsistent with Vance’s claims. But I think it worth stressing that—assuming Vance is telling the truth—the U.S. Attorney’s office should have informed the Manhattan District Attorney’s office that it could resume its investigation. One plausible explanation is that someone “dropped the ball.” There are, of course, less innocuous explanations. We do know that the Trump administration was putting signifiant pressure on the Southern District to protect Trump and harrass his political opponents.

Meanwhile, “the Matt who is much worse than Yglesias but likely better than Schlapp” yet again demonstrates why he was the right guy to receive Musks’ “Twitter files.”

I spent Friday and Saturday at a workshop on (liberal) international order, where I made a similar point. As a joke. And even that joke was better than this #hottake, which is so bad that it risks tearing a hole in the pundit-time continuum. For example:

  • As Israel makes clear, whether or not the allegations are “thinly,” “thickly,” or not at all “pretextual” has little bearing on whether the desire to avoid jail time can incentivize leaders to undermine liberal democracy. Note that the overlap between people who think Bibi is defending Israeli democracy and opponents of the Trump indictment is rather substantial.
  • As we say in debate, this scenario is “not unique” to the policy under consideration. Trump already tried to do a coup. He already pushed authoritarian policies during his first term. He was already promising to destroy liberal democracy before his indictment. I know this sounds crazy, but perhaps exempting former presidents from criminal liability might be a more significant pathway toward authoritarianism.
  • Unlike, say, Israel or Hungary, the United States has an almost-impossible-to-remove mechanism in place that prevents executives from remaining in office indefinitely.
  • While it might be difficult to sustain the legal theory that (supposedly) undergirds Trump’s (first) indictment, that hardly means the allegation is pretextual.
  • Since there are no downside risks to granting former presidents perpetual immunity to criminal prosecution, I suppose that it’s not worth considering an alternative: that Nixon-era Office of Legal Counsel memo was incorrect to conclude “that the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unduly interfere with the ability of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned duties, and would thus violate the constitutional separation of powers.”

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