Missing the Real Danger

Missing the Real Danger


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Washington’s major focus over the past week has been on the tumultuous events concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.  Certainly, the bombshell that was thrust into the process with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s disclosure after the Judiciary Committee’s deliberations appeared to have been completed, turned the nomination’s consideration into a new ball game.

In addition, there has been considerable focus directed at President Trump’s decision to increase U.S. tariffs on goods imported from China by $200 billion. This was followed by China’s retaliation which was threatened to exact a $60 billion tariff of their own against American goods brought into China. The most dangerous story, however, is still only evolving.

As Congress leaves town for the last four weeks of the mid-year election campaign the Justice Department, the F.B.I., and all federal law enforcement agencies have been instructed by the President to make public their secret files and documents for possible pending prosecutions. The President –regardless of what his constructive or cynical motivations might be—is totally undermining the functioning of the federal judicial system.

Trump has the legal authority to disclose this material as well as the extensive secret FISA Court documents –even in non-redacted form—concerning all investigations into possible Russian hacking of the 2016 election. In doing so Trump would be undermining the work and the integrity of the federal criminal justice systems and the thousands of people who work in law enforcement. For them this is worse than a slap in the face, it is a direct affront to their jobs.

This demand occurs at a time that Trump is engaged in an intensifying personal confrontation with the Attorney General and the Justice Department. He is considering firing not only Jeff Sessions but Rob Rosenstein and even moving to stop the Mueller investigation.  The rule of law and the pursuit of Justice have never been so seriously under attack at any point in American history. To date, however, there has been nary a whimper from the Republican Members of Congress who are totally focused on getting out of town to campaign and save their seats in November.

The President’s action has opened the greatest potential internal confrontation in the Executive Branch since Richard Nixon ordered the Justice Department to fire the special Prosecutor in the Watergate case in October 1973.  Today, the public ought to be aware of the potential reprise of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre. Trump’s attack needs to be considered as an even more wide-spread and serious confrontation between the law enforcement system and the President.

In 1973 Nixon ordered that Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox be fired. The top two officials at the Justice Department, Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus resigned. It remained for Robert Bork, the Solicitor General to agree to dismiss Archibald Cox.

If the President proceeds with his intended order, the breadth and scope of this fight will involve hundreds of Department enforcement officers, many of whom are currently engaged in actual prosecutions or investigations of various matters related to the 2016 election. It also involves disclosing sources as well as methods and techniques used by the federal law enforcement system. If un-redacted documents are released, they are likely to endanger even the lives of those working with and/or cooperating with the Justice Department.  It will also provide a tremendous insight for foreign governments into the secret workings of the American national security system.

If President Trump proceeds as he has now threatened and there is no compromise, it will require a massive, courageous effort by officials in the Justice Department to be willing to place their careers on the line against the President.

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