On Wednesday, writing for The Washington Post, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance laid down suggestions for Attorney General Merrick Garland on how to reform the Justice Department after years of political influence and manipulation by the Trump administration.
Her advice comes at a time when Garland has taken fire from allies for controversial decisions, including moving to block the release of a DOJ memo explaining the decision not to charge former President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice in the Mueller investigation — and at a moment when the department is reeling from reports Trump officials used it to spy on members of Congress and their families.
"That's a shocking departure from the respect for the separation of powers that prevented even President Richard M. Nixon, with his list of enemies, from investigating members of Congress," wrote Vance. "What's less shocking is that Garland didn't know about this case sooner — and may yet not know about other Trump-era projects, especially considering the widespread concerns about the politicization of the department. The problem cases don't identify themselves. Files don't come with bright yellow stickers that say 'Warning!' and 'Danger!' It will take a top-to-bottom review of the Justice Department to root them out. And it has to happen fast.
Vance laid out some simple steps for Garland to begin sorting out the problem.
"One critical step is for Garland to commit to transparency. He can depart from the Justice Department's culture of reserve, a culture that avoids much in the way of public explanation," said the report. "The department can't publicize the details of investigations in progress because it could compromise them, endanger witnesses or smear the reputations of people who are never charged. Disclosure of grand jury proceedings is prohibited by law. But the Justice Department can be transparent about the way it works and its decision-making process. It can openly discuss why it takes certain legal positions, especially when institutional interests are at stake."
"Garland's the Justice Department has difficult decisions ahead, ones that will not please everyone," concluded Vance. "The only way to navigate this complicated landscape is to be open and candid about what is taking place; to be willing to explain decisions and why the Justice Department believes they are the right ones ... This may not be the traditional way things are done at the Justice Department, but it is the right way for this troubling moment."
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