#JusticeIsComing. In today’s America, that phrase – that promise – is beyond important. It wasn’t so long ago that America suffered through a “long national nightmare.” Politically motivated crimes were committed to give unfair advantage to an incumbent president. A cover-up
followed that was, at a minimum, condoned by that same sitting president. Congress tried to get to the bottom of what seemed like executive branch misconduct only to be rebuffed by a recalcitrant, indeed obstructive, administration. We saw a massacre on a Saturday night.
The Supreme Court decided weighty issues involving the limits of presidential power and immunity. Articles of impeachment were drafted. Ultimately, after declaring, “I’m not a crook,” a criminal president resigned. Then? It was decided that the best way to move forward
as a country was to put the past behind us. Turn the other cheek. Let bygones be bygones. The way to heal our nation, we were told, was to allow a criminal president to avoid responsibility for the crimes that put our country through gut-wrenching turmoil. The best salve
for a bruised and battered republic, we were assured, was to pardon a criminal president. The way forward was to decline to hold accountable the leader of the free world - a man who had made the considered, premeditated decision to commit a series of decidedly pedestrian crimes
motivated by his zeal to retain the power he had worked so hard to acquire. This, we were promised, would signal the end of our “long national nightmare.” Justice?
We are once again staring down the justice barrel. I think there’s a strong argument that
last time we stared down the barrel of justice we shot ourselves in the eye. What we do this time may signal the difference between, on the one hand, continuing to walk in the direction of “a more perfect union” or, on the other, figuring out how to pick-up the pieces
of a failed republic. Richard Nixon’s crimes and abuses seem almost quaint when compared to the crimes and abuses of President Donald J. Trump: a modest break-in and ensuing cover-up vs. coordinating with a foreign adversary to steal a presidential election and,
very possibly, a re-election. And Trump’s cover-up also involved firing or forcing out countless career public servants and tearing down our law enforcement and intelligence institutions. To this former career prosecutor, Nixon’s crimes, bad as they were,
seem more akin to shoplifting, jaywalking and trespassing, whereas Trump’s feel more like robbery, rape and murder.
As a career prosecutor, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about justice. Problem is, there are about a billion things to know about justice. Indeed, there is
no one definition of justice. In the well-populated (ok, over-populated) world of the criminal justice system, justice means different things to different people. For the family who lost a loved-one to violent crime, justice might look like life in prison for the killer.
For the defendant, justice may mean fighting the charges at trial because he believes he acted in self-defense. The judge presiding over the case likely views justice as a fairly and efficiently run trial without regard to the verdict. The eyewitness who identifies
the perpetrator in open court only to be labeled a “snitch” and who, as a result, is assaulted when he returns to his neighborhood, probably feels like he’s on the losing end of the justice stick. “Justice” is not just one thing. Not by a long shot. What might justice look like
after Donald Trump leaves office? Apart from (or together with) Trump, who should be prosecuted for their criminal wrongdoing? Who should be held accountable for an abuse of power even if that abuse doesn’t technically qualify as a crime under today’s Code of Criminal Offenses?
How about those elected officials who enabled Trump’s crimes and abuses? Does justice require that those politicians be held to account? Or is losing their next election consequences enough? And what of the bit-playing wrongdoers in this sad national saga. For example, what
should be done to the many individuals who ignored Congressional subpoenas? Refusing to appear pursuant to a lawfully issued subpoena is plainly a criminal offense. However, the Department of Justice – my professional home for 24 years – is headed by Attorney General Bill Barr.
Barr has shown he is decidedly disinterested in fighting certain crimes. Indeed, if enforcing our criminal laws might produce results potentially damaging to the president, Barr tends to dismiss them with a summary waive of his regal hand. After all, when asked
during his congressional testimony if the White House suggested to him that he open criminal investigations into Trump’s political opponents, Barr deflected by saying, “I’m grappling with the word ‘suggested.’” He then answered, “I don’t know.” As a prosecutor who is
a bit of a stickler for people being required to tell the truth while testifying under oath, “I don’t know,” equals perjury if the witness does know. Barr, of course, knew. He probably even knows what the definition of “is” is. Of course, Bill Barr is merely the “lookout”
while Donald Trump is the true perpetrator. Trump’s adoration of and subservience to Russian President Vladimir Putin is painfully obvious. After US intelligence organizations concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, Trump stood on the world stage
in Helsinki and took Putin’s side, saying, “I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia, I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be (Russia).” He probably should have seen why it would be Russia given that Trump himself infamously said, "Russia, if
you’re listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing . . .” Call me crazy, but it seems like Trump’s invitation to Russia to interfere in our elections should have given him at least an inkling that it was Russia that interfered in our elections. Then,
in a twist that would be laughed out of a Hollywood script for being a stretch of the imagination too far, Trump sought to bribe/extort the president of Ukraine to unlawfully assist him in the 2020 presidential election by fabricating dirt on political rival Joe Biden. Of course
Trump cleaned it up (sarcasm) by strolling out onto the White House lawn and saying he’d also like China to help him cheat in the 2020 elections. You don’t need to be a social scientist to see that a lack of accountability for one’s crimes abuses breeds more crimes and abuses.
I contend we can draw a pretty straight line from the pardon of Richard Nixon to the rampant crimes and abuses of Donald J. Trump. How do we achieve justice in a post-Trump world? How do we restore institutional normalcy when disregard for norms has become the norm? Stay tuned.
You can follow @glennkirschner2.
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