I believe readers of a piece such as this will already be aware of the basic workings of the US government, but I’m going to recap to set the stage for the point I wish to make. Our government has 3 branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. The legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch executes the orders of those laws, and the judicial branch makes rulings on the laws to determine whether laws are violated, or if the laws themselves violate the highest authority in our country: the constitution. The writers and signers of our constitution were very concerned with abuses of power, and so the government was set up this way in order to form a set of “checks and balances” between the branches so that no branch could obtain too much power and tyranny could be avoided.
The process ends up looking something like this very simplified example: in the interest of the security of the American people, legislators (beholden to the electors they serve) draft a law stating that certain people working for the government must disclose their involvements with foreign powers so that outside influences and potential conflicts of interest can be known. Being a good idea, this law is passed by our bicameral (2 house, the Senate and the House of Representatives) legislative branch and approved by the chief executive, the President of the United States (POTUS). Executive powers, namely law enforcement like the FBI, then do checks on individuals subject to the law to make sure it isn’t violated. If and when potential violations are found, the executives bring their case before the judicial branch who rule on the case. If the judiciary rules that the actions of the accused individual are actually in violation of the law, they then rule on on an appropriate punishment. This process is what keeps our society running smoothly: legislators legislate, executives execute, judges judge, and Paul Manafort trades in his ostrich jacket for prison shoes because it is in the best interest of the American people.
Like any system made by fallible human brains, this system is not a perfect balance that always leads to the best outcome. It does pretty well, but there are breakdowns that cause bad outcomes. A spiteful or ill informed populace could elect bad representatives. Corrupt executives could appoint partisan judges. Partisan judges could rule improperly, which is to say not based on the words of our laws or constitution, but according to their whims and interests. Legislators could fail to hold executives accountable for improprieties. Unfortunately, it seems we may be in a place where some of these breakdowns are occurring, and we must make some noise to remind the government that we are paying attention.
Here’s the problem with which we are dealing: the chief executive may have committed numerous crimes, and he is using his role as such to hinder the investigation that would bring him to justice. We have someone trying to remove their own checks on power and the balance of our government. This has only been a minor problem so far, because the Attorney General (AG), Jeff Sessions, our government’s leading lawyer who guides these sorts of prosecutions, wisely recused himself from presiding over the case due to his conflict of interest (he worked to get Trump elected). This enraged Trump because he wanted an AG who would quash any such investigations in him, his campaign, or his family.
Because of Sessions’ recusal, the next high government lawyer, the Deputy AG, handles the investigation of the Trump campaign. This position was also appointed by the POTUS and approved by the Senate as per the constitution, and Deputy AG Rosenstein has been doing right by the American people. Deputy AG Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to a special council meant to investigate the claims of intelligence officials that the Trump campaign may have acted improperly. To date, this investigation has initiated criminal proceedings against 33 individuals on dozens of charges, and led to multiple guilty pleas and convictions, including against the aforementioned criminal and enemy to America, Paul Manafort, and many Russians working to undermine our elections.
It seems clear that the investigation is inching closer on bringing more charges to people even closer to Trump, and even to Trump himself. And so, like a cornered animal, Trump has decided to attempt to gut the investigation before it can properly conclude. In order to do this, Trump would have to get rid of either the man who recused himself, or the man doing his job, and this week he elected to do the former: Sessions was forced to resign. This opens the door for the installation of an AG who could take over control of the investigation and either try to end or at least hobble it.
And so we have Matthew Whitaker, the new acting AG. Whitaker is someone with a clear history of wanting this investigation to go away, and it’s obvious this pick was made to do just that. “Ah, but we have checks on this,” you, the intelligent follower of the plot says; “congress must approve of the AG, and so power in existing matters in the AG office must follow the proper chain of succession: Deputy AG Rosenstein is still in charge!” Here is where our potential constitutional crisis lies: the sudden vacancy of a position allows for an acting executive to be put on place, so Whitaker can rightfully be called acting AG. Also, having not recused himself, he may be allowed to directly oversee Mueller’s special council, which could mean halting it in ways or defunding it to the point that it cannot move properly.
Does this seem right to you? Should any individual, even the POTUS, be able to avoid the law by halting investigations against them? If you think not, but fear the law allows for such things, know that YOU, the voting populace, is the ultimate check on all government power. Congress can pass laws and resolutions that could make tampering with the Mueller investigation by anyone illegal, even new AGs, acting or approved. We elect that congress and we let them stay in power.
Right now, we can call our Senators and tell them to protect the rule of law. Right now, we can preach this word to fellow citizens that care to see criminal behavior held accountable and get them to join in the process. Don’t be tricked into believing this is over your head and that this is all up to the whims of people in suits that sit hundreds of miles away. You are not helpless. They need our money, they need our votes, and they try desperately to get those things. Threaten to take them away, and they will act.
The story leads here: you are the last check against tyranny. Call your senators and tell them you believe no one is above the law. Tell them that to represent you, a lover of justice, they must protect Mueller’s investigation. Tell your friends, tell any citizen that cares about justice, that if they care about holding our government accountable they should do the same.
– J. Arnold Roxby
Since that time, Arn has maintained the anger and cynicism necessary to recognize problems in government when he sees them.