Stephen Miller’s and Trump’s Gross Re-Politicization of DOJ

There was some legitimate concern about inappropriate machination of the Department of Justice when Trump named and confirmed Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General. Typical discussion followed this by Isaac Arnsdorf at Politico:

Donald Trump suggested on the campaign trail that he could use the Justice Department to fulfill his political agenda, taunting Hillary Clinton by threatening to throw her in jail over her email scandal.

Now, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, will have to decide whether to follow his predecessors by vowing to not let politics drive the DOJ’s decision-making.

That was one, and a serious, level of concern. Today we find said concern not close to being deep enough as to how the Trump White House would try to run Justice as merely a lever of their extreme politics.

But, via the New York Daily News, comes a little noticed, and truly frightening report of just how renegade and ridiculous the “fine tuned machine” the Trump White House is determined to be in politicizing the DOJ. In an article captioned “Stephen Miller called Brooklyn U.S. Attorney at home and told him how to defend travel ban in court”, comes the stunning news that:

In the chaotic hours after President Trump signed on a Friday afternoon the sloppily written executive order meant to fulfill his Muslim ban campaign promise, Stephen Miller called the home of Robert Capers to dictate to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District how he should defend that order at a Saturday emergency federal court hearing.

That’s according to a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the call, which happened as Department of Justice attorneys cancelled plans, found babysitters and rushed back to their Brooklyn office to try and find out what exactly it was they were defending and who was being affected by it — how many people were already being held in America, how many were being barred from arriving here and the exact status of each person.

The full article at the NYDN is mandatory reading, but let that sink in for a second. 31 year old Stephen Miller, a wet behind the ears extreme right wing ideologue with white nationalist leanings and NO, repeat NO legal training, much less law degree, called up a United States Attorney – at home! – to “dictate” how the DOJ would operate in an emergency litigation situation in an United States District Court.

Stunning is too weak of a response. Shocking is insufficient. It is actually hard to know what the proper words for this are.

I asked Matthew A. Miller, former OPA head under the Obama DOJ for a thought on the implications of Stephen Miller’s hubris in this instance. His reply was:

The last time a White House started dictating demands to U.S. attorneys, the sitting Attorney General had to resign in disgrace. This raises yet another in a series of questions about whether the Sessions Justice Department will be independent from the Trump White House.

Exactly. I would have said “unprecedented” above along with “stunning” and “shocking”, but for what occurred during a period of the Bush/Cheney regime when the interaction and control of the DOJ from the White House was extreme. And, ultimately, blown up as beyond unacceptable and appropriate by more reasoned minds and authorities. And, I might add, substantially due to the Fourth Estate of the press, that Trump blithely and ignorantly describes as “enemies of the American people”.

Yes, it is really that important of a moment now with Stephen Miller (note: NO relation to Matthew A. Miller) and the extreme hubris and lack of institutional awareness, competence or control, and obvious disdain for any, by the Trump Administration.

Back in 2007 Senator Sheldon Whitehouse created, and displayed at a Senate hearing, a stunning graphic displaying the shocking difference between communication between the Clinton White House and DOJ, and the ridiculous political input that the Bush Cheney White House had to DOJ.

With the grossly inappropriate statements of President Donald Trump as to how “he” will direct prosecutions of political enemies and other criminal and military defendants, leakers and others, to the literally insane conduct of Stephen Miller here, it is time to remember Senator Whitehouse’s chart.

It is also time to wonder if Sheldon Whitehouse and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have the cojones to take the fight for the Constitution and integrity of the justice system once again to a renegade White House. And the Trump White House has quickly made the Bush/Cheney White house look better in the rear view mirror, as truly craven as they were.

And, yes, the situation is exactly that dire if you recall the same Stephen Miller, being sent out and directed to all the Sunday political shows to declare and mandate that:

“…our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

This is straight up an Article II Branch declaration of pure tyranny by Stephen Miller and Trump. This is a serious problem, and this is an Administration making good on its promise and determination in that regard.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.
58 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Stephen Miller – along with the rest of Mr. Trump’s deal team – is drunk on the power of the White House. But no one on that team intends to wield it to protect the United States. They will wield it to protect the president’s ego and their own access to power, everyone and everything else be damned.

    This was never in doubt, but its reality is scarier than would be re-electing the Cheney/Bush team. The Trump version of restraint makes Mr. Cheney look public spirited and hesitant. Bmaz, if anything, understates the risks we now face. As to whether Mr. Whitehouse or his colleagues have the cojones to point this out for the record – and to contest it – none of us need hold our breath.

    • bowtiejack says:

      It is well to remember that in their rise to power the Nazi’s earliest takeover targets were the prosecutors’ offices.

      • lefty665 says:

        The fear is that they’ve got a learning curve. At least with all the goofy names (Abrams, Betraeus, Bolton) that have been floated for various positions, Addington has not surfaced… yet. And that’s just the As and Bs.

        Guess we’ll get a measure when the new, improved, much better than ever, Muslim ban is unveiled.

         

  2. Ed Walker says:

    The article in the NYDN doesn’t say what instructions Miller gave, but I’m wondering if he didn’t insist that the lawyers assert that the decision of the President was not subject to review. That’s the kind of argument only an ignorant person would make, in light of the long history of Congressional law-making on the subject of immigration, including laws that regulate the discretion of the president on issues like religion.

    Perhaps someone would make that argument as part of a shotgun approach to defense, but it is simply wrong, and it would embarrass a decent lawyer to do more than recite it, while making it clear that it was at the insistence of the client.

    I wonder if the information is protected. The source is “a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the call”, so presumably not a lawyer. I’m not sure if there is some other privilege. Perhaps a legislator could ask.

    • martin says:

      Martini – *1*

      “…our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

      (1)Another hospital patient. Martini lives in a world of delusional hallucinations, but Pres. McMurphy includes him in the board and card games with the other patients in WH cuukoo’s nest.

      Nurse Ratched – *2*

      “Alright Martini, we’ll see who *won’t be questioned”. You seem to forget, Martini, that this is an institution for the insane.”

      (2)The head of the hospital ward.

       

      dear bmaz..  sorry.. it’s the only way I have to deal with this insanity.

       

       

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    One of the most worrying aspects of living in Trumpville is the skill with which Trump sows chaos, then claims – or has others claim on his behalf – that whatever outcomes occur are intentional. It’s not a new skill set, Mr. Reagan was good at it, but the Trumpsters seem to wield it with unprecedented effect. The media will be essential in keeping us moored to reality. Otherwise, we and the rest of the world will plunge down the rabbit hole that Mr. Trump has been descending since he and the execrable and self-hating Roy Cohn were drinking buddies.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It is good that Mr. Trump will not be able to institutionalize his wrongs the way Mr. Obama institutionalized Mr. Cheney’s power grabs.  But Mr. Trump needn’t be capable to be dangerous; as president he gets further bites at the apple until it rots or is gone.

    • bmaz says:

      How do we know that, given the stranglehold on all three branches Trump’s enablers have, that Trump’s wrongs can’t, and won’t, be institutionalized?

      Not a rhetorical question, I have real fear of this.

  5. jeff says:

    Telling someone how they want a case defended is not politicization. What happened in the last administration was

    targeting of political opponents. That is politicization.

    • bmaz says:

      You have to be kidding me. This is a seriously uninformed comment. But thanks for dropping in, for your first comment ever, Jeff, with that nonsense. Before you return, maybe study the Constitution, Separation of Powers, history, Nixonian and Bush/Cheneyian history, and DOJ guidelines and policy.

    • Anon says:

      Jeff, can you provide an example of the targeting of political opponents?  I am honestly curious about this because the only thing that I am familiar with that came close was the claim that the IRS was zeroing in only on right-wing groups.  However it is my understanding that that claim did not hold up under scrutiny.

      I am also familiar with the prior administration cracking down, often quite hard, on civil liberties and environmental groups like NODAPL and Occupy despite purporting to support them, while giving the Bundy’s a comparative pass.  Is this what you are referencing?

  6. Don Bacon says:

    This was “according to a federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the call.” … An Obama appointee, no doubt…..Move along, nothing to see here.

    • John Casper says:

      Don,

      Do you have a link to the Trump administration disputing the reporting?

      Do you dispute that Stephen Miller called a U.S. Attorney at home?

      Was Stephen to busy to take care of this during normal work hours?

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    When an aide to the president tells a US Attorney how he wants a case handled, it is the epitome of politicization.  That conclusion is inescapable where, as here, the aide has limited political experience, no management experience, and NO legal training or experience: the aide has no function but to communicate the president’s political will.  The call could only be understood as a command, one that puts White House political priorities above the law, above the people, facts and issues of the case, above competing local or national priorities, and above fairness, justice and equity.

    Given that Mr. Trump first learned what little he knows about the law from Roy Cohn, this abuse should come as no surprise.  It is an expression of the view that the law, indeed all of government, is merely a tool of power used by the powerful to obtain a desired outcome.  It is a view at odds with American legal and political aspirations, if not our foundations.  But it is a conflict often played out between the people and the Hamiltons, Calhouns and Hardings, the Dohenys, Rockefellers and Morgans, the Dulleses, Kissingers and Nixons.  It is the equivalent of, “Who shall rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

    Miller’s call invites a senior DoJ prosecutor to ignore his professional obligations, to put careerism above the law, in order to achieve a politically desirable outcome.  That’s always a risk, but this call would give it presidential approval.  The process attempted here would would throw out all considerations except Mr. Trump’s immediate gratification.  Quelle surprise.

  8. greengiant says:

    OT,  but when Felix Sater’s name is tied to Trump,  it is game over.  behind the paywall.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/19/us/politics/donald-trump-ukraine-russia.html

    Is Trump playing a false flag operation against the NYTimes or will he be a puppet because he is impeachable?   Why does an employee of Jared Kushner publish hit pieces on Trump?    See John Schindler at observer.com

    “Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen,  and Felix Sater drafted a plan for lifting sanctions …”

    “Sater, a businessman formerly linked with the Mafia who has boasted of his “relationship with Trump”

    https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/02/19/report-trump-lawyer-hand-delivered-michael-flynn-plan-lift-russia-sanctions/21717217/

    Search for Felix Sater in this article.

    https://www.deepcapture.com/2009/02/bernard-madoff-the-mafia-and-the-friends-of-michael-milken/

    or this document.

    https://www.sec.gov/comments/s7-08-09/s70809-4614.pdf

    • Phil Perspective says:

      Why does an employee of Jared Kushner publish hit pieces on Trump?    See John Schindler at observer.com

       

      And Schindler should be trusted, why?  Do you not know his history?

      • greengiant says:

        Will never come up to speed on this.   Does Schindler think he was honey trapped by deep state or the Russians and is out for payback?   Or is he just helping to set up traps?  Maybe someone who read his 4 books could take a guess. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/17/louise-mensch-trump-russia-ties-media-scoop  Mensch is messing with Michael Cohen on her twitter fee yesterday and is she being catfished with claimed videos of Milo talking about OK with sex with 13 year olds to set up an English libel charge?

        • bmaz says:

          Who cares what Schindler, Mensch and Cohen think or say??

          If you pay even the slightest attention to them, you are damaging your own neurons and propagating idiocy to the rest of the public.

          • Desider says:

            A quick compilation of some of the Sater & other Russian-based backing of Trump empire over here: http://dagblog.com/world-affairs/notes-underground-21978

            It looks more like Trump was recruited long ago as a generally amoral guy in need of cash, good development & casino ties, and willing to push the limits of legality. That he got involved in politics was a bonus (though me doubts the Russians like this amount of spotlight on what they do).

            Whether Comey has been compromised still makes me wonder – for a law and order bunch with hair triggers on terror & entrapment, some spectacular mistakes and quizzical inaction elsewhere.

  9. mitchell says:

    Not that it happened in this post, but it reminded me how much the harder comrades defend Trump. The argument seems to be that as a claimed — well, implied — disrupter of the neocon and neoliberal agendas — will actually do it and (if so) what he’ll replace the agendas with would be better than what we have now.

    Well, if you can’t trust the word of a lifelong liar, someone who would say anything, who can you trust?

    • lefty665 says:

      “Who can you trust?”  Sure was the issue last year. They each had individual characteristics to dislike/fear on their merits. However, there were some they shared, like habitual lying, that contributed to them vying for the highest unfavorables in polling history. The neo cons/libs seem to be doing a pretty successful job of keeping their crusade against Russia on track. Trump replacing Obama’s Citi mafia with Goldman does not augur well for change there either.

  10. lefty665 says:

    On the bright side, I have not seen that Trump has ordered the wholesale resignation of USAs as Duhbya did. I suppose that is temporary as they have as yet nominated for very few (about 5%) of their discretionary,  serves at the pleasure of the President slots (is the supply of ambitious dingbats really all that limited?).  Obama institutionalized most of Duhbya’s Article II abuse and piled on a passel of his own. Unfortunately, there was not much screaming from the Dems about that.  Support for expanding Article II authorities as the antidote to Repub obstruction was pretty shortsighted, as we are finding out. Among my fears is that many of Trump’s follies will stand on Obama’s shoulders.

    We can only hope the press wakes up, but that it is the NYDN breaking this story is not reassuring. It seems the media will have to get over their current “because RUSSIA” hysteria before they can focus on much else.

    • wayoutwest says:

      @lefty

      Tillerson seems to be moving quickly to drain his swamp of many of the fat Clintonite gators waiting to learn their fate. He can’t fire them all but he can reassign many to isolated stagnant ponds.

      I imagine that the fifty or so of them that signed the declaration of support for the Red Queen’s war plans for Syria are regretting that brilliant move.

      • bmaz says:

        Oh, you mean the people at the State Department with actual career long diplomatic experience?

        The ones that actually know their ass from a hole in the ground, which cannot be said for Kushner, Tillerson and the rest of the Trump cabal?

        THAT is who you are talking about WOW??

        • wayoutwest says:

          The old saw about experience being paramount is weak when these experienced diplomats mostly spout militaristic rhetoric and push for intervention and war. Having this kind of experience on hand just leads to more bad experiences such as Libya.  I’m sure there are plenty of other civil servants with experience who are not quite as insane as this bunch of Clintonites that will gladly fill these positions.

          Tillerson has decades of experience dealing with world leaders and I’m confident he will bring in people with negotiating skills not just agendas.

          • Desider says:

            Yes, he was hired to “negotiate” oil company-friendly deals up our ass, and is already started on it. How that’s an improvement on career professionals mostly intent on US citizen interests, you got me, but say 3 “Red Queens” and 5 “it’s all Obama’s fault” and call me in the morning.

            Really, it’s depressing when grownups toss out weird taunts like 4th graders, almost as depressing as electing one.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Trump’s experience seems to have evolved around deal making, around short-term resource extraction, which is the antithesis of building and running an institution, be it public or private.  His government experience, too, has been limited to resource extraction – obtaining through paid fixers zoning and building code exemptions, tax concessions, free-for-him infrastructure improvements.  Along with his me-me-me personality, which limits the personalities he can tolerate working for him, that would explain his being so unprepared for so much.

    Mr. Trump seems to have no clue that he needs to offer up thousands of candidates to run the government machine, even if his goal is to have them dismantle government, to make it incapable of resisting a corporatist agenda.  To do that, he needs to consider and vet many thousands more.  Mr. Cheney made that his job 1.  Mr. Obama was at least aware of the task, but was unwilling to fight for many of his appointees, preferring instead to use sitting Republicans or to offer up only the most milquetoast of nominees.  Mr. Trump, on the other hand, seems to think that systems run themselves, or can be manipulated by a paid fixer as and when he needs them to stand and deliver.  Perhaps someone should tell him that Tom Hagen already has a job in Nevada and that Liberty Valance is no longer in the job market.

  12. GKJames says:

    Clueless but entitled; that’s how authoritarian minds operate. To state the obvious, this is where established civic institutions need to show their mettle and do what they’re intended to do. The courts have already shown the way. The unknown is Sessions and his new crew. A hunch (and at this point it’s nothing more than that) says that, because they know better, they’ll pursue their agenda indirectly and outside the limelight.

  13. John Casper says:

    Thank you eoh, bmaz, and lefty for the critical “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” connection.

    At end of news week, I will forward it to some reporters and editors I’m acquainted with. Putting the symbols that Jimmy Stewart’s and John Wayne’s characters in that mover are, on their side will help.

    Background on the author of “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” Dorothy M. Johnson.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_M._Johnson

  14. John Casper says:

    wayout,

    You wrote, “Tillerson has decades of experience dealing with world leaders….”

    “State Department frontrunner is ExxonMobil exec honored with Russian state award by Putin”
    https://www.rt.com/usa/370009-rex-tillerson-putin-connection/

    Exxon’s stock price has declined 20% since hitting its high in 2014.

    https://www.google.com/?client=safari&channel=mac_bm#channel=mac_bm&q=Exxon+Stock+price

    What happened to Tillerson’s “negotiating skills?”

    OT, as a Trump supporter, where’s your denunciation of pedophilia?

    “Video surfaces of Milo Yiannopoulos defending pedophilia, ACU board reportedly not consulted on CPAC invite”

    http://www.theblaze.com/news/2017/02/19/video-surfaces-of-milo-yiannopoulos-defending-pedophilia-acu-board-reportedly-not-consulted-on-cpac-invite/

    You make Muslims denounce violence. Isn’t “turnabout fair play?”

    • Cv says:

      No idea how Tillerson will be, no evidence to judge yet. The poor Exxon stock performance angle is weak sauce, oil is down 50% over that period despite the dramatic rebound over the last six months.

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Mr. Tillerson’s experience has been with a resource extraction giant extraordinaire. Its interests were rarely consistent with those of the country or people (as opposed to a corruptible oligarchy) from whom his employer took resources. While that has more in common with American foreign policy than is normally recognized, it is not likely to endear him to those with whom he now has to negotiate. It is not likely to make his voice credible, at home or abroad. It is likely to suggest that far from cleaning out the stables, Mr. Trump will be content to ride the same old hacks, on the same trails, toward the same ends.

    • bmaz says:

      Yes. At what point though, does one have to give Tillerson credit for not being as bat shit insane as the rest of Trump’s cabinet?

      Sadly, an honest question!

      • lefty665 says:

        Mattis doesn’t seem bonkers either.  Dunno much about McMaster, certainly better than $%^ Bolton, but it looks like we’ll get him somewhere. F*cking neocons.

        While I certainly don’t think much of his judicial philosophy, Gorsuch seems to be getting reviews as less of an egomaniac than Scalia. What’s your take on him bmaz and earl?

        • bmaz says:

          Oh, McMaster is batshit. Better than Bolton? Not sure, but maybe! Not by that much though.

          Gorsuch is way more of an enigma than most “experts” claim because they are all trying to read him off of his 10th Circuit opinions and writing. The problem with that is, a Circuit court is NOT the Supreme Court, it follows SCOTUS. Sam Alito “looked” less alarming from his 3rd Circuit work. But look at him now. I expect exactly the same from Gorsuch. He is eminently qualified, and will be undoubtedly horrible, very much like Sam Alito. That is my take, for what little it is worth.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            I agree with the new freedom a circuit judge would find on the Supreme Court.  As for qualifications, I think academic excellence and two decades or more of top flight legal experience are minimum qualifications.  Beyond that, it’s politics and personality, which is why it’s strange that such items are deemed beyond the pale of inquiry.  We need judges from outside the Ivies, with technical and public service backgrounds: computer, privacy and IP law, the top lawyers from the defense bar, EFF, ACLU, CREW or Sunlight.  We’ve had enough of old and young men from the Ivies who’ve spent their careers enabling corporations and prosecuting their way to the top.

  16. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT: suspect inter-banking system is hacked.
    Multiple fraud cases where banks have killed cards for fraudulent transactions since Friday.
    Debit or Credit was not a factor. Different banks. Note US banks closed today.

    Cash is king.

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