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April 21, 2009

It Is Improper For The President To Interfere With The Justice Department

-- by Dave Johnson

Atrios makes a very important point: The President is not supposed to say that someone should or should not be prosecuted.

We have a system of justice that is supposed to be independent of politics and individuals. It is improper for a President to say that someone will or will not be prosecuted. No one is supposed to be above the law.

I hope Atrios doesn't mind if I pay him the complement of repeating his post in full:

I'm so old I can remember those ancient days when it was accepted that the Justice Department was independent from the president, that the Attorney General and others should make decisions absent political considerations, and that when it seemed as if independence might not be possible, the AG should recuse him/herself and appoint a special prosecutor.

I'm not the first person to bring this up recently, but the point is that it shouldn't be Obama's and Rahm Emmanuel's decision whether to prosecute anybody. If there's suspicion and clear evidence that people broke laws, an inquiry should begin. If the AG feels undue pressure from President Change and his gang then he should appoint a special prosecutor to try to wall off the investigation from political pressure.

This is an example of just how badly Bush and the Republicans distorted our system, when everyone later takes it for granted that this is how things are done. It is also an example of why we need to investigate and prosecute lawbreaking. If you don't lay down the law the things that are allowed to slide become the norm.

Update - I see that Glenn Greenwald wrote about this at Salon,

Whether to commence criminal investigations and prosecutions of specific acts of alleged criminality is not Obama's decision to make. It is the duty of the Justice Department, and ultimately the Attorney General, to make those decisions based strictly on legal considerations, and independent of the political interests of the White House. Whether or not Obama favors prosecutions is really irrelevant, and one could almost reasonably argue that the increasingly aggressive pressure he and his aides, such as Rahm Emanuel, have been exerting to impede prosecutions was becoming improper.
BUT adds that, to Obama's credit,
Clearly, Obama today -- in the face of rising rapidly pressure to investigate -- seems to have re-considered that approach. Obama just plainly contradicted what Rahm Emanuel said over the weekend and what Robert Gibbs said yesterday when he announced this afternoon -- appropriately so -- that the decision of whether to prosecute Bush lawyers who authorized torture ("those who formulated those legal decisions") was one for the Attorney General, and not Obama, to make, and that Obama did not want to "prejudge" that question.

Posted by Dave Johnson at April 21, 2009 11:45 AM


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