The inspector general for the Department of Justice should investigate whether the Trump administration is applying unethical or illegal political pressure on the DOJ in ways similar to those leading to the articles of impeachment passed by the House Judiciary Committee against Richard Nixon in 1974.
In particular, the inspector general should consider two specifics matters:
First, is Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE pressuring subordinates to pursue an investigation or prosecution of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAttorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Durham seeking indictment of lawyer with ties to Democrats: reports MORE for partisan political reasons, without any basis in law or fact?
Second, is the DOJ opposing the merger of AT&T and Time Warner after political pressure from President Trump or those acting on his behalf, for the purpose of attacking CNN, a media organization Trump has repeatedly attacked, and to intimidate other media organizations, which the president has also viciously attacked?
Let's emphasize that the articles of impeachment against Nixon specifically included misuse and abuse by Nixon of the DOJ, the FBI and the CIA.
Recall, Trump has previously:
- fired former FBI Director James Comey;
- threatened or implied that he might fire Attorney General Sessions;
- fired former New York U.S. District Attorney Preet Bharara;
- fired former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates;
- criticized and implicitly threatened Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein;
- publicly and repeatedly pressured the Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton; and
- publicly and repeatedly attacked CNN and other media organizations before the Justice Department decision to oppose the merger.
These facts could well support a possible indictment for obstruction of justice by special counsel Robert Mueller.
They also present a prima facie case for the inspector general to open a formal investigation about the ethical appropriateness of this presidential pressure involving the Clinton and CNN matters, which threaten to undermine the fair administration of justice by attempting to punish those the president considers political enemies without any legal basis.
The president has a strange, abnormal and fanatical obsession with attacking his opponent in the 2016 campaign. This is unprecedented in the history of the presidency.
It creates ominous dangers for the fair administration of justice and becomes even more ominous because the attorney general has been threatened by the president with being fired and may himself be under investigation by Mueller.
Regarding the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner, while the president repeatedly attacks CNN, the Justice Department acted in a peremptory manner to simply oppose the merger without engaging in the normal procedures under which mergers are considered.
In another action unprecedented in the history of the presidency, Trump obsessively attacks a long list of respected media organizations as “enemies of the people." This is how foreign dictators, a number of whom Trump repeatedly praises, view the free press in their own nations.
Is Trump seeking to use the Justice Department to intimidate and pressure the media as a whole, or use the DOJ to favor conservative media organizations that support him?
In another action unprecedented in presidential history, Jared Kushner, the president’s close confidant and son-in-law, told an executive at Time Warner that CNN should fire 20 percent of its staff.
Kushner’s arrogance is breathtaking. In any other administration, this kind of abusive behavior toward a major company that owns a leading news organization would be grounds for his dismissal and for an inspector general to closely analyze his role in the merger.
Kushner is now reportedly under major investigation by Robert Mueller and his special counsel team. He should immediately resign or take an extended leave of absence from any role in the Trump administration until the special counsel investigation of him is fully resolved.
Does the Justice Department oppose the merger either under direct presidential or White House pressure or in an attempt by department officials to curry favor with a president who believes in using all forms of power to reward those he considers friends and punish those he considers enemies?
In my view, the answer is absolutely yes, though I propose that the inspector general consider the issue objectively and reach a proper conclusion based on facts and evidence.
While Trump praises foreign dictators, he abuses his power by pressuring the Justice Department to turn America into a nation of banana-republic justice, attacking a political opponent without any legal basis and attacking a news organization involved in a merger the DOJ now opposes.
While the Mueller investigation considers the issue of obstruction of justice, the DOJ's inspector general should not silently accept the creation of a department of injustice where political partisanship corrupts the rule of law.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.