October 19, 2018

HE TAINTS EVERYTHING HE TOUCHES:

Justice Dept. Rank-and-File Tell of Discontent Over Sessions's Approach (Katie Benner, Oct. 19, 2018, NY Times)

During his 20 months in office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has swept in perhaps the most dramatic political shift in memory at the Justice Department, from the civil rights-centered agenda of the Obama era to one that favors his hard-line conservative views on immigration, civil rights and social issues.

Now, discontent and infighting have taken hold at the Justice Department, in part because Mr. Sessions was so determined to carry out that transformation that he ignored dissent, at times putting the Trump administration on track to lose in court and prompting high-level departures, according to interviews over several months with two dozen current and former career department lawyers who worked under Mr. Sessions. Most asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

President Trump has exacerbated the dynamic, they said, by repeatedly attacking Mr. Sessions and the Justice Department in baldly political and personal terms. And he has castigated rank-and-file employees, which career lawyers said further chilled dissent and debate within the department.

The people interviewed -- many yearslong department veterans, and a third of whom worked under both the Bush and Obama administrations -- said that their concerns extended beyond any political differences they might have had with Mr. Sessions, who is widely expected to leave his post after November's midterm elections.

"Since I've been a lawyer, going back to the late 1970s, I can't recall a time when morale has been as low as I have heard from some former colleagues," said Robert Litt, a former Justice Department official during the Clinton administration. [...]

The president has also frequently targeted Rod J. Rosenstein, who as deputy attorney general oversees the day-to-day operations at the department as well as the special counsel investigation. In a turnabout this month, Mr. Trump declared his relationship with Mr. Rosenstein good, to the relief of some federal prosecutors. To them, Mr. Rosenstein's office symbolizes the department's independence because he oversees its inquiries into the president and his inner circle.

More unnerving, employees said, was the president's threat to remove the security clearance of Bruce Ohr, a civil servant who worked to combat Russian mobs and oligarchs. The message, said one lawyer in the criminal division: Doing your job can make you vulnerable to a career-ending attack.

Two former attorneys said that they stepped away from Russia-related work as a result.

"The underlying message from Trump is that department employees are either enemies of the White House or vassals doing its bidding," said Norman L. Eisen, who served as special counsel for ethics and government reform under Mr. Obama. Mr. Eisen is co-counsel for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing Mr. Trump of violating the Constitution by maintaining a stake in his hotel in Washington.

As a target of Mr. Trump's high-profile rebukes, Mr. Sessions has gained cautious support even from some rank-and-file lawyers who find his culture wars zeal distasteful. They cited instances where he pushed back on Mr. Trump's broadsides and his simply enduring months of presidential invective.



Posted by at October 19, 2018 4:17 AM

  

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