On Wednesday, former White House counsel Bob Bauer wrote a blistering op-ed in The New York Times, warning that President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr are “out of control.”
“The resignation of a Justice Department prosecutor over the sentencing of Roger Stone is a major event,” wrote Bauer, who served in the White House under President Barack Obama. “The prosecutor, Jonathan Kravis, apparently concluded that he could not, in good conscience, remain in his post if the department leadership appeared to buckle under White House pressure to abandon a sentencing recommendation in the case of Mr. Stone, the associate of President Trump who was convicted of obstructing a congressional inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.”
“Dramatically forceful responses to Mr. Trump’s assaults on rule-of-law norms have been all too rare,” wrote Bauer. “A resignation can set off an alarm bell for an institution whose failings an official might be unable to bring to light in no other way, or as effectively. It upholds rule of law norms in the very act of signaling that they are failing. It makes its point with power and transparency, and stands a chance of rallying support from those who remain in place and compelling other institutions like the press and Congress to take close notice.”
Many lawyers who oppose the president’s violation of norms, wrote Bauer, have chosen to stay and try to restrain the president. But when the abuses of power get severe enough, resignation is the only option. And it often works: “According to the Mueller report, having been finally pushed too far, the White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign in June 2017 over Mr. Trump’s directive to fire Mr. Mueller. What did the president do? He backed down.”
However, wrote Bauer, “That was then. Mr. Trump has established a new normal at the senior legal leadership of his administration. The rhetoric of Mr. Sessions’s successor, William Barr, suggests that he accepts, to a disturbing degree, the president’s desire for a politically responsive Justice Department. Mr. McGahn’s successor, Pat Cipollone, defended the president in the impeachment proceeding with arguments of the kind, in tone and variance from the factual record, you would expect to hear from Trump surrogates on Fox News.”
“For senior administration lawyers to just manage these kinds of conflict — ignoring Mr. Trump’s tweets and disregarding his inappropriate if not unlawful presidential orders — allows the abnormal to become normal and professional standards to crumble,” wrote Bauer. “The prosecutor who resigns rather than remain in a decaying institution is upholding crucial norms. To his credit, at least one lawyer has chosen to do this, even if it is the rare case and it may have come too late to protect the Department of Justice from Mr. Trump’s demands and Attorney General Barr’s apparent willingness to accommodate them.”
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