McCabe Cleared: Justice 10, Trump 0
The U.S. Justice Department today declared that it would not pursue criminal charges against former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. The decision continues a remarkable streak since Trump’s inauguration three years ago: No matter how blatantly Trump has sought, behind the scenes and in his public attacks, to use the Justice Department to prosecute his foes and let his cronies off the hook, he has come up short, time after time. At least so far.
The Justice Department, via various U.S. Attorney offices as well as Robert Mueller’s special counsel operation, has convicted Trump associates, some of whom are now behind bars, while other Trump allies remain under investigation. Meanwhile, although Justice has investigated several former government officials against whom Trump has voiced grievances, to date the Department has prosecuted none of them.
Trump was incensed that his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, refused to act as his Roy Cohn, a fixer to do his personal bidding. Sessions’ replacement, Bill Barr, has stepped into that role in terms of protecting Trump himself from charges — grossly mischaracterizing the conclusions of the Mueller report, seeking to bury the Ukraine whistleblower’s complaint — an effort so shady that Barr’s criticisms of Trump in an ABC interview Thursday seemed phony.
The decision this week by Barr to overrule prosecutors’ already-filed sentencing recommendation for Trump crony Roger Stone — whether or not Trump expressly ordered it — is also extremely troubling. But, in his most significant comment to ABC, Barr said of the Stone case, which Trump has repeated labelled a travesty, “I thought that was a righteous prosecution, and I was happy that he was convicted.”
A jury convicted Stone of, essentially, covering up for Trump’s campaign — of lying to Congress and obstructing the congressional investigation into the campaign’s contacts with WikiLeaks, which was releasing documents hacked from Democrats. Stone, a close Trump associate, is now asking the judge for a new trial. Stone chose a trial over cooperating with prosecutors and telling them what he knows, so Trump pushing to let Stone off the hook or to reduce his sentence appears to be a deeply corrupt act.
It’s also concerning to learn today that Barr has assigned an outside prosecutor, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri Jeffrey Jensen, to review the case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and perhaps other prosecutions. General Flynn, who led the “Lock Her Up” chant at the 2016 GOP convention, got caught lying to the FBI about his dealings with Russia, pled guilty, and pledged to cooperate, but has craftily avoided his sentencing for months and now is seeking to withdraw his plea. Early in his term, Trump notoriously pressured then-FBI director James Comey to let Flynn off the hook, and Trump has continued to complain of Flynn’s treatment. Justice prosecutors recently softened their request that Flynn go to prison, saying probation would be “reasonable.” But for now, Flynn’s guilty plea stands.
In addition to the cases against Stone and Flynn, the Justice Department, via Mueller’s team, tried, convicted, and imprisoned former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, despite Trump’s repeated complaints that Manafort has been Treated Very Unfairly. It obtained guilty pleas from former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
Now, federal prosecutors in New York reportedly are investigating Trump personal lawyer and “crime fighter” Rudy Giuliani, in the wake of indictments of Giuliani’s one-time “clients,” Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. The investigation of Giuliani continues despite complaints from Trump. Other Trump cronies have been convicted on federal charges ranging from illegal inaugural contributions to child pornography.
The Trump Justice Department also prosecuted Trump’s two earliest congressional supporters, Chris Collins (R-NY) and Duncan Hunter (R-CA); both ended up pleading guilty to financial crimes, even after Trump complained that the prosecutions hurt the GOP’s chances of keeping control of the House of Representatives.
Michael Cohen, who pled guilty and went to prison for paying hush money to Trump’s one-time paramour Stormy Daniels, in violation of campaign finance laws, ended up a Trump enemy, because he told the court and Congress the truth about Trump. But at the time the Justice Department went after Cohen, he was Trump’s trusted lawyer.
Meanwhile, the former law enforcement and intelligence officials Trump hates most remain free of federal charges.
John Durham, a prosecutor assigned by Barr to probe whether there was bias in the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, is reportedly pursuing a dubious theory that the CIA, under then-director John Brennan, unlawfully withheld information from other agencies. But that sounds unlikely to bear fruit.
At least for now, none of Trump’s foes have faced prosecution (with the exception of loose cannon lawyer Michael Avenatti, convicted today for extorting a shoe company, in a matter that had nothing to do with Trump).
There surely have been costs of Trump’s efforts to distort justice. Many Justice Department and FBI officials have faced big legal fees, career setbacks, and personal distress in the wake of Trump’s baseless conspiracy theory attacks. McCabe, who was publicly fired, Comey, Brennan, the FBI’s Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and others have been relentlessly vilified by Trump and his right-wing echo chamber.
The top federal prosecutor in DC, Jessie Liu, whose office oversaw some of the prosecutions of Trump associates, and the McCabe probe, was pushed out of her job, dropped from consideration for a top Justice position, and then saw an angry Trump withdraw her nomination for a top Treasury Department post. The four federal prosecutors in the Roger Stone case resigned, one leaving the Department entirely, after Barr undercut them.
Yet it is remarkable that, despite all the Trump/Barr abuses of power, the Justice Department, so far, has prosecuted and jailed a whole bunch of Trump aides and cronies, and not prosecuted any of the people Trump wants pursued. That result seems to have been warranted by the facts, but still, remarkable.
Surely the absence of prosecutions of Trump foes has resulted in part from some top Justice officials slow-walking Trump orders and tweets to prosecute people against whom there are is no legitimate case. It also must reflect the reality that the federal judiciary remains strong and independent, making it a terrible idea for Barr or anyone else to pursue a phony or weak prosecution.
Meanwhile, the continued righteous prosecutions of Trump associates is a tribute to the skill, integrity, and courage of career personnel, special counsel appointees, and even some Trump appointees at the Department of Justice and FBI. They have done so knowing that this president believes the Justice Department is his personal law firm, charged with advancing his cover-ups and pursuing his grievances. They continue to do so aware that an angry, unhinged Trump is bent on retribution after escaping punishment for his blatant misconduct in the Russia and Ukraine matters. We owe these men and women our respect.
Trump has deeply corrupted our government and justice system. He insisted just today that he has “the legal right” to interfere in any criminal case he wants. His efforts to lock up his enemies no doubt will persist, so advocates for impartial justice must remain vigilant. And Trump may well pardon all his cronies soon, or before he leaves office. But, so far, in terms of turning the criminal justice system into his personal tool for revenge and impunity, Trump is losing, bigly.