Donald Trump’s politicization of the Justice Department hurts faith in rule of law when it is sorely needed. Film producer Harvey Weinstein has been investigated before for sexual abuse, and now, with many more allegations coming out publicly, it is likely that he might have faced serious investigations under any administration.
Yet the appearance of conflict-of-interest and the demonstrated intent of applying law politically casts an inescapable lack of confidence under anything the Justice Department does now. The admissions by Trump that he made explicit political calculations when staffing the Department of Justice and pressured the DOJ to investigate his enemies (Trump says he wouldn’t have picked Sessions if he knew he’d recuse himself, After attacking AG Jeff Sessions for failing to investigate Hillary Clinton, Trump won’t say if he will fire him, Comey documented Trump request to drop Flynn investigation in memo) imply that he would use, or try to use, his power to attack any political enemy he can.
Now it is reported in the Daily Mail that the FBI is opening up an investigation into Weinstein at the behest of the DOJ (although “it is unknown whether the DOJ order came directly from Sessions”). There’s a 90 percent chance that this is justified entirely on the facts of the case. In almost any other administration, there would be closer to 99 percent confidence.
We know how Trump responds to crimes committed by his political allies: he pardons them. When ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio, who took a hardline stance on illegal immigration and endorsed Trump, was convicted of violating court orders against implementing a program the courts ruled was racially discriminatory, Trump pardoned him less than one month after he had been convicted. President Clinton pardoned Mark Rich, a financier whose wife made major contributions to the Democratic Party, but he waited until his last day in office and didn’t issue a statement calling Rich a “patriot.” Presidents have engaged in actions that reek of such corruption before, but few have been so explicit and so shameless in doing so as Trump has.
So, too, with conservative pundits. If there were a conservative celebrity accused of multiple cases of sexual assault, Fox News and Breitbart wouldn’t be condemning him; they would be rallying around him and voting for him for president.
Trump’s lawyer even gave contributions to the same Manhattan DA who declined to file charges against Weinstein. Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. returned $32,000 Trump’s attorney contributed after Vance’s office declined to file charges against Ivanka and Don, Jr for lying to condominimum buyers in sales presentations. That just happens to be the same Cyrus Vance Jr. who received contributions from a lawyer who has represented the Weinstein Company after Vance declined to press charges against Weinstein in 2015.
The effect is more likely that conservatives with enough access to power and favor (i.e. Arpaio) will be able to get away with things, not so much that innocent liberals will be sanctioned. Weinstein is almost certainly guilty of crimes.
NBC, however, is guilty of nothing for reporting on the president. Trump has also expressed an intent to use unconstitutional power to attack his critics in the press. Just after NBC reported on how Trump wanted to increase America’s nuclear stockpile tenfold, Trump threatened, “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”
Trump has similarly threatened Amazon and its owner, Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, on account of the Post’s often critical coverage of Trump. Multiple times he has suggested raising taxes on Amazon, with explicit links to the Washington Post in his statements, as in this quote from a 2016 interview with Sean Hannity:
“Every hour, we’re getting calls from reporters from The Washington Post asking ridiculous questions, and I will tell you, this is owned as a toy by Jeff Bezos, who controls Amazon,” Trump said.
Like the boy who cried wolf, Trump has shot his credibility. In the event that there were some kind of extreme situation that really did call for the suspension of a television network’s broadcast license, it’s hard to trust his judgment. An example from a foreign country: In Britain, a radical Muslim radio station had its license revoked this year for broadcasting the lectures of American terrorist propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki. The British authorities could do so credibility (aside from the fact that the facts of the case were clear) because they had a track record of applying the law objectively and impartially.