Something Wicked This Way Comes
April 16, 2018 | A series of loosely related events seems to be converging, all regarding the FBI or the Department of Justice as a whole. President Donald Trump recently pardoned Scooter Libby, infamously prosecuted by the Department, while whispers of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein continue to swirl. Furthermore, former FBI Director James Comey—also fired by the president—is set to release a memoir on Tuesday, which the president is already lambasting on Twitter. The RNC has already launched a website called Lyin’ Comey to further discredit the memoir, using the president’s own vitriolic moniker for the former FBI director.
While it is understandable that the president would be frustrated or even fear the Department of Justice, the lengths that he has taken to delegitimize the work of the Department should be distressing to all. This is not a matter of politics or party; this is about a head of state actively trying to undermine one of the pillars that comprises the society he is beholden to.
Lawmakers and everyday citizens alike should be concerned about the president’s actions towards the FBI, the Department of Justice, and other institutions that provide the structure and stability of American society. The rule of law, as ironclad as it may seem sometimes, is only as strong as the people believe it to be. Laws and the state are truly just constructs, as prone to dissolution and dysfunction as any other idea is. The only difference between the chaotic Wild West and the functional state is the institutions that provide functionality. To have the most powerful government official tearing at such an important institution from the top down is an ouroboros that may lead to political and economic instability at a national level.
As troubling as this would be on its own, hostile governments overseas are watching this with glee—and perhaps even fueling it. It would be farfetched to say that the Russian government is directly pushing President Trump or the RNC to delegitimize the Department of Justice, but as has been concluded by several U.S. government agencies, the Russian government is happy to send out its armies of bots, trolls, and propaganda machines to divide American citizens and delegitimize liberal democracy worldwide. This would mean a national security problem, as well as a societal one for the U.S.
The United States of America.
The U.S. draws its strength as a country from its unity, a facet of our republic that has been present—and fought over—throughout our history. It is on our lawmakers to understand the weakness that exist within and between our country’s great institutions that may be exploited by a president acting in bad faith or merely a hostile foreign state. There have been signs of hope that our lawmakers do in fact understand this. A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation on April 11 that would protect Mueller’s position and investigation. The GOP reportedly views the legislation with skepticism, however, and it is highly doubtful that the president would sign it.
It is even more unlikely that there would be enough support in Congress to override a veto, mostly due to a lack of support from members of the Republican Party. As of today, reports coming from Capitol Hill suggest that this will remain the same. Meanwhile, James Comey has given an incendiary interview on ABC in which he called the president “morally unfit,” among other criticisms. Comey might have good intentions with this interview and his soon-to-be-released book, but he seems to only be adding fuel to the fire in American discourse. His actions are entertaining to read about, certainly, but do such bold moves actually accomplish anything? His criticisms will perform favorably with those who already oppose Trump, and will continue to alienate those who support the president. This produces only a further entrenched status quo.
Thus the divide at its very worst rears its ugly head. The Department of Justice—specifically the Special Counsel’s investigation—has already been so called into question by the president, his loyal followers, and a good portion of his party that Congress may be unable to act to stop the president from further disrupting the Department. It is a vicious cycle that ultimately can only be broken by enough popular support from the Democrats, Republicans, and independents who put country before party or ideology. Do the people know what is at stake here, really? Domestic stability and national security go hand in hand with this particular problem, but it seems that few are aware that something wicked this way comes on both fronts.
Sophia Freuden is a criminal defense legal assistant, former intern for the U.S. Department of State, and recent participant in the Fulbright Program in Russia.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or of Arbitror as a whole.
Photo by Scott for Flickr with a CC BY 2.0 license.