Deborah Daniels: The Justice Department is not being weaponized

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Deborah DanielsAs a former U.S. attorney who continues to observe the work of the Department of Justice, I am very concerned by repeated claims about the “weaponization” of the department.

The chorus swelled after the indictment of former President Donald Trump on 34 counts of deliberately retaining classified documents and obstructing justice in preventing their discovery and return to the government.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he would “hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable.” Majority Whip Steve Scalise said, “Joe Biden is weaponizing his Department of Justice against his own political rival.”

Several presidential candidates parroted the charge. Former Vice President Mike Pence said, “The American people [should] be able to judge … whether this is just the latest incident of weaponization and politicization of the Justice Department.” To his credit, at least he added that “no one is above the law.”

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott also criticized the “weaponization” of the department.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted that “[t]he weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society.”

Who did not jump on the bandwagon? Statesmen like Sen. Mitt Romney, who was quoted as saying that former President Trump “brought these charges upon himself by not only taking classified documents, but by refusing to simply return them when given numerous opportunities to do so.”

Which presidential candidates refused to join the chorus? Notably, former governors Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson. What do they have in common? They are both former U.S. attorneys. They know there is an ethical wall between the White House and the Justice Department, and they reject claims that President Biden is using the department to indict his political rival.

Why? Because even if the president were to try (and he knows better), the career as well as the politically appointed leaders at the Justice Department would not allow the wall to be breached.

I know FBI Director Chris Wray from earlier days in the Justice Department, and he is a man of unassailable integrity.

I know enough about Attorney General Merrick Garland, who had an impeccable record on the federal bench, to know he would never allow such a thing to happen.

Who actually did try to weaponize the Justice Department? Trump. The federal indictment relating to his attempt to reverse his election loss describes his efforts in detail. Some are well-known, such as his call to the Georgia attorney general requesting him to “find” 11,780 votes, “which is one more than we have”; and the pressure he put on then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject the duly certified slates of electors on Jan. 6, 2021.

One effort that might have escaped public attention is Trump’s attempt to cause the Justice Department to use false statements to pressure certain states to replace legitimate electors with the alternate electors solicited by the former president and his allies.

In December 2020, he requested the acting attorney general to send a letter to state officials in specific states, falsely claiming that the department had identified election fraud and was investigating it. When the acting attorney general refused on the grounds that the claim was false, the president of the United States said, “Just say that the election was corrupt, and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”

In other words, put out this lie, and I’ll take it from there.

That is an actual example of the attempted weaponization of the Justice Department. Fortunately, it was prevented by the department leadership. And we owe them a debt of gratitude.•

__________

Daniels, an attorney with Krieg DeVault LLP, is a former U.S. attorney, assistant U.S. attorney general, and president of the Sagamore Institute. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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