Congress and the public must now push for protections for the special counsel.
As ethics experts, we believe Mr. Whitaker should recuse himself from the investigation. If we have ever seen an appearance of impropriety in our decades of experience, this is it: a criminal subject president appointing his own prosecutor — one who has evidently prejudged aspects of the investigation and mused about how it can be hampered.
.. Whether or not Mr. Whitaker steps aside, Mr. Trump’s audacity now demands additional safeguards. Congress must quickly put in place a plan to protect the Russia investigation before President Trump makes any further efforts to control the special counsel’s office.
.. Our proposed solution is based upon one devised by, of all people, Robert Bork when he was the acting attorney general during Watergate. Mr. Whitaker or whoever becomes the next acting attorney general must provide the same protections against interference that Mr. Bork provided to the special Watergate prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, in a 1973 Justice Department order. Mr. Jaworski received the protections as part of agreeing to replace the previous prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was fired in the infamous Saturday Night Massacre.
The Bork order contained much stronger provisions to protect the independence of the special prosecutor investigation than is now found in the Department of Justice guidelines that govern the Mueller inquiry. These enhanced protections should be demanded from any new person given responsibility to oversee the Mueller investigation:
● The attorney general, acting or permanent, will not remove the special counsel except for extraordinary improprieties.
● The special counsel shall not be subject to the day-to-day supervision of any Justice Department official. The attorney general shall not countermand or interfere with the special counsel’s decisions or actions.
The Times podcast focuses less on Gingrich’s style and more on his use of so-called “wedge issues.” Times columnist Jennifer Senior interviews Republican former congressman Vin Weber about how the GOP “exploited” American differences on cultural issues such as partial-birth abortion and gay marriage to help hand them their first majority in two generations.
But it turns out that “wedge issue” is just another word for “popular position.” In the early 1990s, there wasn’t a meaningful electoral constituency for gay marriage. There wasn’t much public support for partial-birth abortion. By bringing up cultural issues, the Republicans not only gave voice to millions of Americans who had deep concerns about the cultural direction of the country, but also exposed divisions in the Democratic coalition.
Gingrich’s Contract with America (you can read it here) was extensively poll-tested to present only promises that had overwhelming public support. Gingrich was a political street fighter, yes, but he was playing a very strong political hand. Congress was overdue for serious change.
.. it’s hard to argue that he “broke politics” when the GOP House and the Clinton administration worked together to enact significant legislation.
.. What? The president of the United States (a man who is almost certainly a sexual predator, by the way) had an affair with an intern in the Oval Office and lied about it under oath. He lied to the American people. He conducted a systematic smear campaign against his accusers and his investigators. None of this was Newt Gingrich’s fault.
.. It is absolutely worth profiling Gingrich and considering his role in American politics — including the undeniable part he’s played in American polarization. Some of his tactics have absolutely been destructive. But the diagnosis here is just fundamentally wrong.
.. Did Newt Gingrich “break” American politics more than Roe v. Wade did? Do progressives know or care about the shock waves Ted Kennedy’s “Bork’s America” speech sent rippling through conservative America? Lest you need reminding, here is the key part of that vile text:
Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.
But for progressives, Roe is good and Bork is bad, and so a bit of sloppy judicial reasoning or rhetorical excess is but a trifling compared to the worth of the broader cause. It’s the arc of history bending towards justice, and that’s not always neat or clean.
1. This was a contrived eleventh-hour ambush of the Kavanaugh nomination. From our editorial:
The hearing will probably degenerate into a political circus, given the theatrics at the first round of hearings even before a charge of sexual assault was on the table. The Democrats have conducted themselves disgracefully throughout this process, with their handling of this charge a new low and new depths sure to follow. But a public airing was unavoidable, certainly once both Kavanaugh and his accuser said they were willing to testify. We hope Republicans don’t blink from asking Ford tough questions about her account, even though such due diligence will be portrayed as rank sexism by Democrats and the media.
Absent any compelling new evidence that backs up the charge, we continue to strongly support Kavanaugh’s confirmation. We believe he’d make an excellent justice. In such a case, when emotions are high, a healthy republic should hew to basic principles of fairness. A good man and deserving judge should not be barred from the high court because of an unproven and almost certainly unprovable accusation of wrongdoing.
.. Andy: Our ace on this matter gives a thorough history lesson on the Democrats’ politicizing of the SCOTUS-nominee process (exclusively for GOP nominees!). From his savaging:
Justices Ginsburg and Breyer were well qualified. But, of course, so had been Bork and Thomas. Because they were Democrats, however, Ginsburg and Breyer sailed through. The two things Democrats and Republicans have in common are 1) abiding respect for the personal integrity and legal acumen of Democratic judicial nominees and 2) effective acceptance of the Democrats’ claimed prerogative to “Bork” any Republican court nominee, no matter how impeccably credentialed, no matter their obvious integrity.
.. Republicans have defeated Democratic nominees, but they never Bork them. They never demagogue Democratic nominees as sex offenders, racists, or homophobes. There are no “Spartacus” moments.
.. Even when Republicans are put off by a Democratic nominee’s progressive activism, they seem apologetic, quick to concede that the progressive in question adheres to a mainstream constitutional philosophy — one that is championed by leading American law schools and bar associations because it effectively rewrites the Constitution to promote progressive pieties.
.. Old GOP hands then typically vote “aye” while mumbling something about bipartisanship and some “presumption” that the president is entitled to have his nominees confirmed (a grant of deference that Democrats do not reciprocate, and that actually applies only to offices in the executive branch that exercise the president’s own power, not to slots in the independent judicial branch).
Even in 2016, when Republicans blocked Merrick Garland, President Obama’s late-term gambit to fill the vacancy created by the titanic Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, there was no besmirching of Judge Garland’s character. It was pure political calculation and exactly what Democrats would have done if roles had been reversed (minus the character assassination).
.. In substance, she “deliberately misled and deceived” her fellow senators, with the “effect of impeding discovery of evidence” relevant to the performance of their constitutional duties. No one should know better than Feinstein herself that such deceptive and obstructive conduct, widely regarded as “unacceptable,” “fully deserves censure,” so that “future generations of Americans . . . know that such behavior is not only unacceptable but also bears grave consequences,” bringing “shame and dishonor” to the person guilty of it and to the office that person holds, who has “violated the trust of the American people.” These quoted words all come from the resolution of censure Feinstein herself introduced concerning President Bill Clinton’s behavior in connection with his sex scandal. She can hardly be heard to complain if she is held to the same standard.
Comparison with other past censure cases only makes Feinstein’s situation look worse. The last three senators censured, Thomas Dodd, Herman Talmadge, and Dave Durenberger, were all condemned for financial hanky-panky: converting campaign contributions to personal use and the like. They were all found to have brought the Senate into “dishonor and disrepute” even though nothing they had done implicated the Senate’s performance of its constitutional duties. Feinstein, in sharpest contrast, sought to keep her committee from timely and properly investigating an apparently serious charge of misconduct, and is still doing so, even in the face of criticism from all (or most) quarters.
Even if it wouldn’t support a criminal conviction or civil liability, a merely credible allegation is enough to disqualify him... It’s natural to place this sort of accusation within a criminal-justice framework: the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt; the presumption of innocence; the right to confront and respond to an accuser. If Judge Kavanaugh stood criminally accused of attempted rape, all of that would apply with full force. But those concepts are a poor fit for Supreme Court confirmation hearings, where there’s no presumption of confirmation, and there’s certainly no burden that facts be established beyond a reasonable doubt... The Senate’s approach to its constitutional “advice and consent” obligation has always depended on context. A number of factors matter: the timing of the vacancy; the justice being replaced; the nominee’s likely impact on the ideological makeup of the court; even the popularity of the president (very popular presidents have always had more leeway when it comes to picking justices). Then, of course, there’s the nominee... Nominations have failed — that is, been withdrawn or voted down — for various reasons. Sometimes it’s because a majority of the Senate rejects a nominee’s vision of the Constitution and the role of the court. That was the case with Judge Robert Bork, a Reagan nominee whose skepticism about the Constitution’s protection of privacy and liberty convinced a majority of senators that he was simply too conservative and too far out of the mainstream to be confirmed.
Other nominations have been unsuccessful because of private conduct. Another Reagan nominee, Judge Douglas Ginsburg, withdrew from consideration after the press uncovered reports of marijuana use that the F.B.I. had failed to unearth.
And the Senate blocked President Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to elevate Abe Fortas to chief justice after evidence emerged that as a sitting member of the court, Justice Fortas had also been serving as a de facto adviser to President Johnson, and after questions were raised about the propriety of outside payments he had received while on the court.
.. This context-dependent approach arguably leads to the conclusion that the existence of credible allegations against Judge Kavanaugh should be disqualifying, especially if further corroborating evidence emerges. That’s true even if the evidence wouldn’t support a criminal conviction or even civil liability... In this way, the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh are directly connected to his ability to perform the job.. In an era of meager faith in public institutions (Congress’s approval ratings hover around 17 percent), the relative trust in the court is a striking and important fact. But even more than a heartening fact, it’s critical to the court’s functioning: The public’s perception of the court as legitimate is in many ways the source of its power.
Putting Judge Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court in light of credible allegations against him could raise troublesome questions about the court’s legitimacy. And that’s a genuine problem, both for the court’s ability to function and more broadly for the rule of law.