In order to have a workable democracy, the rights of the minority must be respected and preserved by a responsible majority. Or, as James Bovard put it, “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”
How then does a responsible majority respect the rights of the minority while at the same time exercising the power it has been given? What I learned in 41 years of government service is that the responsible exercise of power is power circumscribed by the basic policies of truth, fairness and respect for the office I held and the system in which I worked.
I started my federal service career as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service, in other words, an in-house lawyer for an agency Congress has made very powerful. After four years, I became a federal prosecutor as an assistant United States attorney and served as one for over 37 years.
Within a limited jurisdiction, a federal prosecutor is an extremely powerful position. with the ability to considerably affect the life of a criminal defendant. In both jobs I learned quickly that I had an obligation not, through word or deed, to do something that would bring disrespect on the office in which I worked.
During my career as an assistant U.S. attorney, I taught literally thousands of prosecutors in a variety of courses for the Department of Justice. I was privileged to be on the faculty with many of the very best and brightest prosecutors the department had, hailing from not only the main offices of the department, but also such well respected offices as Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Newark, Chicago and Los Angeles, to name a few.
Inevitably during courses, discussion would center around the responsibilities we as prosecutors owed to the concept and system of justice. In reality, how could we exercise our power in a fair way to achieve public safety, while respecting the rights of those brought into the system as targets, defendants, victims and witnesses. We also had to be mindful of the respect we owed to the other branches of government, the Congress and the judiciary.
To help us in our quest, we of course were bound by statutes and legal ethical rules, but in addition we were guided by well conceived policies of the Department of Justice and, significantly, by the facts. We labored to do the right thing, not always succeeding, but always trying, because of what we owed to the system of justice.
The single best piece of advice I was given during my career, from Federal Judge Dee Benson, my boss when he was United States attorney. He said we should always be fact driven. If we were, people could disagree with our analysis or conclusions, but could not criticize us for being political or unfair or desiring fame. We ultimately could be proven wrong, but an honest error would not tarnish the office or the system.
At this time, both houses of Congress would do well to be more fact driven and let an honest appraisal of the facts drive decisions in the impeachment arena.
There is no doubt in my mind that the president is unfit to hold his office. He has brought profound disrespect to the office in many ways. As chief executive, he is to see that the laws are faithfully executed, yet he constantly abuses our system of justice by pronouncing people who have never been charged, much less convicted, guilty of crimes. If a judge issues an opinion he dislikes, the judge is an Obama judge or political. In the same vein, he undermines the justice system by attempting to excuse the criminal conduct of his associates who have, through due process, been charged and convicted.
He tried to persuade the FBI director to overlook criminal conduct eventually admitted to by one of his appointees because, according to the president, Michael Flynn is “a good guy.” He has labeled one section of the Constitution he swore to uphold as “phony.” He has misstated the results of the Mueller report. His personal lawyer is serving prison time for paying money to the president’s paramours to keep the president’s conduct secret.
Perhaps most significantly, the president has brought his office into disrepute constantly tweeting and speaking falsehoods, many of which could be a federal offense in violation of the false statement statute or constitute obstruction of Congress. For example, Ambassador Gordon Sondland was, according to Trump, a great American, until Sondland amended his testimony. Suddenly the president hardly knew this man.
Some members of the House of Representatives have also done a disservice by not being fact driven. Those who called for the president’s impeachment without developing a record of impeachable offenses based upon investigated facts have harmed the impeachment effort. These members create a defense for the president that did not need to exist, one of tyranny of the majority in the House without respect for the rights of the minority.
But whether the president should be impeached on the articles passed by the House is not the point. It is that unfortunately, for whatever reason, Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Chris Stewart are not only not fact driven, but are seemingly not fact cognizant. Both should know better.
Lee has labeled the president as gift to the people of Utah. Stewart has said that those who oppose the president must think Trump’s supporters to be stupid. These comments are virtually incomprehensible coming from these two gentlemen with their backgrounds.
Lee is a lawyer who served in the United States Attorney’s Office for two years. He clerked for a Supreme Court justice and was in private legal practice. He must know that adherence to facts is an integral part of the law and government.
Admittedly, a politician will be driven by political considerations, but to ignore the unethical, immoral and at times illegal conduct by the president (his improper conduct in Trump University and the Trump Foundation for examples) so as to label the president a “gift” is unfathomable.
Stewart is not a stupid man, despite his unwavering support of the president. Anyone who has been an Air Force officer fit to fly a modern war plane is not stupid. But is it his military record that makes his intransigent support so baffling. Officers who have engaged in conduct not remotely as shameful as the president can be court-martialed for conduct unbecoming an officer. Yet, according to Stewart, such conduct is completely excusable in the commander in chief, the person who is the face of the country to the world.
Maybe the articles passed by the House do not merit impeachment, but the president does not merit blind support for all that he has done, and all that he unfortunately continues to do. Call him out, tell him that such conduct as he has demonstrated is wrong. Stop doing damage to our institutions by being one of the two wolves. Many of us feel like the singular lamb.
Stewart Walz, Sandy, retired in 2018 after 41 years in federal service.