Donald V. Watkins
Trump was Right on One Thing!
Updated: Dec 26, 2021
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on December 9, 2021
Despite his incompetence in office and many personal flaws, President Donald J. Trump was absolutely right about one thing -- the president of the United States is the chief law enforcement official in the federal law enforcement apparatus. Trump was harshly and repeatedly criticized for "interfering" with the operation of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) during his one-term in office from 2017 to 2021. This criticism, which found a very receptive audience in the court of public opinion, was plain wrong for several reasons.
First, the president appoints the U.S. Attorney General as a member of the executive branch of government. The Attorney General is a cabinet member just like the dozen or so other cabinet members who serve at the pleasure of the president. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution places the Attorney General beyond the supervisory reach of the president. He/she is directly answerable to the president.
Attorneys general at the state level are constitutional officers who run for statewide office and operate independently of the governor in their respective states. They are directly answerable to the people, and only the people.
Second, the Attorney General's job in the federal system is to advance and protect the president's public policy initiatives using the federal legal apparatus to achieve this result. He/she also has a concomitant duty to enforce the labyrinth of more than 8,000 federal civil and criminal laws.
Contrary to popular opinion, an unelected U.S. Attorney General is not free to detach himself/herself from the president who appointed him/her so that he/she can implement a separate, independent, and unsupervised federal law enforcement agenda. The DOJ does not join the president, Congress, and federal judiciary as a fourth branch of government.
Third, the U.S. Constitution gives the president carte blanc authority to nullify the work of the Attorney General in the enforcement of federal criminal laws, with no questions asked. This grant of power was not an oversight in drafting, passing, and ratifying the Constitution. Instead, it was an express grant of power by the people to the president to overrule judicial outcomes that do not suit his liking.
The president enjoys the unilateral and unreviewable right to pardon convicted federal inmates, commute their sentences to time served, and/or grant them executive clemency. The president does not need anybody's permission or approval to exercise this power. The pardon power is the ultimate supervisory authority over the Attorney General.
Fourth, the president appoints Article III federal judges who, once they are confirmed by the U.S. Senate, serve in their jobs for life. Lifetime appointments sounded like a good thing when the Constitution was drafted, passed, and ratified. The Founders believed that lifetime tenure in office would insulate federal judges from political pressure as they protected the rights of individuals from possible tyranny by the local, state, and federal governments. This form of protectionism effectively converted federal judges into "monarchs" who serve in public office until they die or abdicate their judicial thrones.
Two hundred and fifty years later, most of these "monarchs" have abandoned the protection of individual rights and assumed the role of unabashed political operatives who use their courtrooms as theaters for advancing partisan agendas. Today, the federal bench engages in social, economic, and political engineering that is beyond the reach of electoral accountability to American voters.
Within this paradigm, one of the president's main jobs is to "check and balance" runaway political activism on the federal bench. The president has a wide array of tools to do so, including the application of strict budgetary controls on the federal judiciary and, where warranted, the initiation of DOJ investigations into judicial misconduct.
Of course, Congress could help the president with this "check and balance" function, but Congress is too politically divided these days to do so. Congress has the power to add federal judges, reduce their numbers, and/or impeach them. Rather than "checking" runaway judicial political activism, Congress encourages and blesses it.
Presidential/Attorney General Pairings Matter in Today's Political World
America is best served when its president and attorney general are both strong personalities and are in sync with each other. Our system of laws has always been used as a tool to drive or undergird public policy.
John Kennedy placed his brother Robert in the Attorney General's job to cover his back and push his presidential agenda. Both men were rich, strong and powerful leaders. They went to the brink of a nuclear showdown to keep Russia from becoming a influential military power in the Western Hemisphere.
Lyndon B. Johnson had a strong Attorney General in Nicholas Katzenbach. Their personal strength and aggressive leadership styles produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. No successors as President and the Attorney General have come close to matching Johnson's and Katzenbach's personal strength, vision for the future, and domestic accomplishments for Americans of color and poor people.
Richard Nixon was a strong president, but he was also a crook. John Mitchell, Nixon's Attorney General, was a crook, as well. Nixon resigned from office, but Mitchell went to jail for the criminal acts he committed while in office.
Jimmy Carter was weak on every level. Yet, Carter's Attorneys General, Griffin Bell and Ben Civiletti, were moderately strong.
Ronald Reagan was a strong president and so was Ed Meese, his Attorney General. Working together, they ramrodded Reagan's political agenda through Congress and the federal judiciary.
George H.W. Bush appointed Richard Thornburg as Attorney General. Bush was weak and ineffective in office, while Thornburg was moderately strong in his job.
Bill Clinton chose Janet Reno as his Attorney General. Clinton's ferocious appetite for sex with a young White House intern, groping some of his female donors, and flirting with the wife of a fugitive he was pardoning, made him a weak and compromised president. Reno was highly competent, but chauvinistic and sexist Republicans resented Reno because she was the first woman to hold the job.
George W. Bush was weak and inept in office, but he had John Ashcroft as his Attorney General. Ashcroft was strong and highly competent. This helped Bush win re-election with ease after he fumbled America's chance to prevent the 911 terrorist attacks.
Barack Obama selected Eric Holder as his Attorney General. Both of these men were highly likeable, but weak and ineffective in office. In their minds, Obama and Holder mistakenly confused celebrityhood with political strength. Lyndon B. Johnson and Katzenbach accomplished more for African- Americans than Obama and Holder ever attempted.
Trump appointed Jeff Sessions as his first Attorney General. While Trump has a super-strong personality, Sessions was extremely weak and intellectually challenged in the job. Trump replaced Sessions with William Barr, who was a strong Attorney General.
Joe Biden is weak and tired, and so is his Attorney General, Merrick Garland. One year after Biden assumed office, Merrick Garland still employs avowed Trump loyalists and modern-day white supremacists in key DOJ positions. Because Biden is the weakest president since Herbert Hoover, he needs a pit-bull as his Attorney General.
Presidents select their cabinet members, including the Attorney General. Once these appointees are confirmed by the Senate, the ultimate political accountability for what a U.S. Attorney General does in office, or fails to do, rests with the president who appointed him/her. If the appointed Attorney General does a great job, this becomes a positive factor in determining whether to support a president's re-election bid. If the Attorney General fails in his/her job, the president must shoulder the blame at the polls for this failure.
As a political Independent, I look forward to the 2024 presidential election. I will be exercising my First Amendment right to work with a new California-based political action committee (PAC) that seeks to register, educate, and turnout at least 2 to 3 million new voters in six swing states for the 2024 presidential election. The PAC will encourage most of these new voters to enter the political arena as Independent voters.
The new PAC will be able to comfortably raise between $10 to $20 million by 2024. Fundraising for the 2024 presidential race will commence in 2022.
About $2 to $4 million of this PAC money will be spent on voter registration and education activities, targeting Hispanic, black, female, LGBTQ, Asian-Americans, Native-American, and young white professionals who will be first time voters. Another $2 to $4 million will be spent on election day Get-Out-The-Vote activities in the six targeted swing states.
Finally, the new PAC will donate $5 to $10 million to the campaign of the presidential nominee endorsed by the PAC. This money will be donated within the last 30 days prior to the November of 2024 election day.