In the American government, the US Department of Justice looms large. Along with the departments of Defence, State and Treasury, DoJ exercises significant influence on America’s place and posture in the world, and concurrently supervises national police work and law enforcement within the US borders. Among DoJ’s subordinate agencies are the FBI, DEA and the extensive network of regionally-based United States Attorneys who oversee and coordinate American domestic law enforcement.
As an example of the scope and influence of the Justice Department, its US Attorney’s office in Miami employs 233 Assistant US Attorneys and a similar number of support staff in its main office and branch offices in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce. The arm of American law is long indeed.
At the top of this giant power pyramid in Washington sits the Attorney General and his senior staff. The AG and top lieutenants are often newsmakers, given the nature of their work, but not since the fading days of Richard Nixon’s presidency 45 years ago have DoJ’s leadership personnel been so consistently and controversially in the public eye.
Donald Trump has put them there and as long as he views his own Justice Department as the most existential threat to his continuation in office, he is likely to keep them in the spotlight.
Trump obviously believes the executive branch of the American government should serve him. Personally. Trump has more quickly than most presidents lost the ability or inclination to differentiate between his own personal interests and needs and those of the country he leads. So he sees issues like the Mueller investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 American presidential election and the federal inquiry into potential impropriety by his personal attorney as potentially damaging to him, personally.
Trump clearly feels it is the job of the DoJ to protect him as president from such activity. His envy of other world leaders unburdened by the nuisance of democratic, constitutionally based institutions is transparent.
That Trump tried to cajole or coerce then FBI director Comey to call off an investigation into the corrupt and potentially treasonous actions of Trump’s first national security adviser is well documented. The release of Comey’s sensational new book last week has reminded Trump and everyone else of those early days in his administration. The president’s instinctive response has been to punch back vigorously. He has relentlessly castigated Comey, calling him an incompetent liar.
As his administration reaches the 15-month mark, Trump must feel the Justice Department is indeed out to get him. He has not forgiven AG Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Mueller probe, since this means his loyal ally cannot now exercise control over the widening investigation. Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, a well regarded former US Attorney, has repeatedly recited his faith in and support for Mueller’s work. Rosenstein is a frequent target of Trump’s Twitter rants, and rumours are flying that Trump may yet fire Mueller, Rosenstein and even Sessions in an effort to end the Russia investigation.
As if all this were not enough, Trump’s alleged misbehaviour toward women continues to put him in hot water. A referral from Mueller has now led attorneys from the US Attorney’s office in New York City literally to the doorstep of long-time Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who may have paid off some of Trump’s paramours in exchange for their silence. Lawsuits on both sides of these cases are popping up like spring perennials in American courtrooms.
There is so much smoke around Trump’s misogyny and almost inexplicable fealty to Russian president Vladmir Putin that many do wonder what damaging material the Russians actually have on Trump.
It all adds up to a cacophony of distraction for a president and a nation that can ill afford such diversions from important events in the world. Aside from headline issues like Syria, North Korea, Russian state skullduggery, Middle East disharmony and continuing trade bluster, the United States would do well to pay much more attention to the deteriorating, chaotic situation in Venezuela, a hardly observed departure from Cuban leadership of the Castros and the eighth Summit of the Americas meeting in Lima which Trump decided not to attend.