The Korea Herald


[Carl P. Leubsdorf] Dangerous criticisms of Biden

By Korea Herald

Published : July 13, 2023 - 05:30

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Despite differences on abortion and Ukraine, most members of the large Republican presidential field have generally followed former President Donald Trump’s lead in roundly condemning President Joe Biden.

While some of that criticism is justified -- his difficulty in taming inflation, or his mishandling of Afghanistan, for example -- some is not.

And the most dangerous example of mistaken Republican Party condemnation of Biden is the continuing assertion that the current administration is guilty of “weaponizing” the Justice Department and the FBI for political purposes.

The irony is that, not only are these Republican Party allegations false, but it was Trump who repeatedly sought to make his Justice Department a political arm of the White House.

“Joe Biden has weaponized law enforcement to interfere in our elections,” Trump told a conservative audience soon after his indictment for improper possession of classified documents. “I’m being indicted for you.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s main Republican Party challenger, agreed. "The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society," he wrote on Twitter.

“We have to clean out the political appointments in the Department of Justice to restore confidence and integrity in the DOJ,” another Republican Party hopeful, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, said on Fox News Sunday.

Trump often sought to use his Justice Department for political purposes.

He attacked his first attorney general, former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of reputed ties between Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russians -- and for resisting White House efforts to interfere.

Two top former White House officials, Donald McGahn and John Kelly, said Trump wanted the Justice Department to investigate his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton, and former FBI officials James Comey and Andrew McCabe, both of whom he ousted.

Trump called for prosecuting former Secretary of State John Kerry on grounds he was illegally interfering with administration efforts to kill the US-Iran nuclear agreement.

Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr, held up release of Mueller’s report and issued a statement suggesting its conclusions were less damning than they were. He also acceded to Trump’s demands to investigate the Russia investigators by naming US attorney John Durham to do so.

Later, Barr separated himself from Trump, rejecting his post-election assertions of widespread fraud and resigning. More recently, he said on Fox News Sunday he was “shocked” by the extent of the charges in Trump’s indictment.

Meanwhile, Trump vowed that, if elected next year, he will seek to curb the Justice Department’s independence from the White House.

“I will appoint a real special ‘prosecutor’ to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the USA, Joe Biden, the entire Biden crime family, & all others involved with the destruction of our elections, borders, & country itself!” Trump posted on the website Truth Social, claiming authority he wouldn’t have.

Trump’s speeches represent both his continuing complaints about his own defeat and indictments and the influence of Jeffrey Clark, the only top Justice Department official who helped his 2020 post-election effort to reverse the result.

In a lengthy piece for the Center for Renewing America, a pro-Trump think tank, Clark cited an array of historical examples to argue that the theory of an independent Department of Justice “is, in practical reality, an illusion.”

By contrast, the Biden administration set a very different course by reaffirming the department’s prior independence. The president left decisions on investigating Trump and his son, Hunter Biden, to his attorney general, former federal appeals judge Merrick Garland.

Garland, in turn, left the Hunter Biden investigation with the Trump-appointed US attorney for Delaware, David Weiss, and named special counsels to examine allegations of improper possession of classified documents by Trump, Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence.

Garland rejected allegations by an FBI whistle-blower and congressional Republicans that the department interfered in the Hunter Biden probe.

Weiss denied in a letter to congressional Republicans he retaliated against the whistle-blower, adding “I have been assured” of having the authority to bring charges against Biden outside Delaware, if warranted. But House Republicans are pressing their criticism of the department and threatening to impeach Garland.

President Biden has declined to comment on either the charges against Trump or his son’s plea bargain with prosecutors.

To some extent, Republican Party allegations probably represent political calculations about the danger of crossing Trump because of his popularity among Republican voters. If anything, the indictments have strengthened his standing with them.

More serious is the degree to which they believe their own false statements.

By Carl P. Leubsdorf

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. -- Ed.

(Tribune Content Agency)