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Posts published in “Day: August 8, 2017”

The role of an AG

jones

There has been a great deal of discussion of late about the rift between the President and Attorney General Sessions. President Trump apparently feels that Sessions should have stayed with the Russia investigation and nipped it in the bud. While I disagree with much of what Sessions has done, he was absolutely justified in recusing himself from issues related to Russia and the campaign. The attorney general is the person charged with upholding the rule of law. He should not be a political operative. This applies at both the federal and state level.

An attorney general must have some independence from both the executive and legislative branches. Whether at the state or federal level, an attorney general swears an oath to support the constitution and laws of the jurisdiction. He or she swears no oath to any individual in the government. The attorney general is responsible to the citizenry to see that the laws are carried out and that law enforcement is even-handed.

Browbeating the justice system, whether the target is an attorney general or the courts, erodes public confidence in the system and the rule of law. If the attorney general were to act as a political lackey, we might have a replay of the Watergate fiasco where President Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, was convicted for his participation in the Watergate cover-up. Think how different things might have turned out if Mitchell had exercised some independence and advised Nixon to let the investigation move forward without obstruction.

Sessions correctly recused himself because of an apparent conflict. The President seems to feel that Sessions had a professional obligation to him. That is simply not the case. However, officeholders in the legislative and executive branches often have a similar misconception about the attorney general being their personal lawyer. When I served as Idaho Attorney General in the 1980s, some members of my party had the idea on occasion that my official decisions should favor the party. I had to advise them that my responsibility was to follow the law.

That is not to say that an attorney general cannot engage in political activity. I certainly did and almost all other Idaho AGs have done so—attending party functions, taking stands on legislative issues, supporting political candidates, and the like. But, there must be a distinct division between political or policy matters, on the one hand, and interpreting and enforcing the laws, on the other. Allowing political considerations to influence the manner in which justice is administered is an injustice in itself.

Idaho’s current attorney general is a good case study. While I may have disagreements on some policy matters with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, I admire his courage in correctly following the law. He has been unfairly criticized by members of his party for not toeing the party line on certain hot button issues. His record of being vindicated by courts of law indicates that he was right and the critics were wrong. The State has paid out a lot of money in attorney fees to private parties by disregarding his advice.

When Wasden said the State Land Board was violating the Idaho Constitution by failing to get the maximum long-term return from State cabinsite properties, his advice was not heeded. He filed suit against the Board and was upheld by the Idaho Supreme Court. This precipitated action by the Board to get greater economic values from those lands. This is what a good attorney general does--faithfully follow the laws, regardless of friendships or politics. Presidents, governors and legislators should understand that an attorney general must have independence in order to fulfill that important role. Sniping, obstruction and interference are detrimental to the rule of law, which is the foundation of our system of government.

Thug in the White House

richardson

It seems like just yesterday our nation met the new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci. Then, in the blink of an eye, he was gone.

Scaramucci’s rapid ascent and more rapid descent provide a cautionary tale. His debut interview, filled with vulgarity, was dismissed by some as merely "colorful." But that benign description didn’t do it justice. It was a profane diatribe, replete with the most repugnant imagery imaginable.

In short order the president grew annoyed that Scaramucci’s mobtalk had eclipsed his own and decided Scaramucci had to go. But Trump knew what he was getting when he hired the guy and, according to initial reports, Trump “appreciated” Scaramucci’s trash talk, finding his shtick “amusing.” Of course he did. As former House Speaker and Trump sycophant Newt Gingrich was quick to note Trump and Scaramucci "speak the same language." Who can doubt it? Certainly no one who remembers Trump's “Access Hollywood” tape.

And that, of course, includes our children. Trump and Scaramucci modeled behavior that will imprint on millions of impressionable young minds just weeks before the new school year begins. Anyone want to guess what kind of taunts schoolyard bullies will be using this fall?

When I was three years old, I overheard my dad and a couple other mill workers in conversation. One of the men called someone a "no-good S-O-B." Later, I asked my dad, “What is an S-O-B?” He paused for a moment, and then said, "It means soft old baloney." Taking him at his word, I adopted the expression and told my mom that the boy next door was a "no-good S-O-B." "Where did you learn to say THAT?" she asked. "From dad," I answered. The next thing I knew, dad was getting an earful from mom, and I never used that expression again.

Of course, it's not news that "little pitchers have big ears." What is new is that our president is now the Vulgarian-in-Chief. We have in the Oval Office a man who treats our beloved country like a crime syndicate and who, like the mob bosses he strives to emulate, bullies and intimidates his “enemies,” with crass threats. What have we come to when our president himself encourages police brutality, brow beats vanquished opponents in a speech to the Boy Scouts, and enthrones a two-bit hood like Scaramucci in the White House?

Perhaps the most notable takeaway from the Scaramucci affair is this: “The Mooch” wasn’t fired because of what he said or how he said it. He was fired because he had begun to occupy the center stage spotlight the president reserves for himself. Scaramucci’s foul language simply provided a convenient excuse.

Scaramucci may be history, but a narcissistic thug remains in the White House.