By Kevin R. Brock, Opinion Contributor
Last week, Jen Psaki, the president’s MSNBC-bound press secretary, trotted out an administration diktat, supported with somber charts, that issued a warning to Republican state legislators in Alabama who passed legislation to prevent chemicals such as puberty blockers or surgeries such as castration and hysterectomy from being administered to prepubescent children. If signed by Gov. Kay Ivey, the law also would prohibit schools from keeping parents in the dark when their children are being “counseled” on these issues by other adults. These Republicans, Psaki threatened, have been “put on notice” by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for possible violations of the Constitution and federal law.
You may not have known that the DOJ has this menacing power to put lawmakers “on notice.” It doesn’t. It’s a DOJ swim lane simply made up by the White House; it doesn’t exist.
The Justice Department has its name for a specific and narrow reason. It investigates and prosecutes those who have violated existing federal statutes to ensure justice on behalf of the American people. It is not the “Department of Luca Brasi,” dispatched by a Godfather-like president of the United States to intimidate adversaries who don’t see things the way he does: “Hey, nice policy position you got there; it would be a shame if someone had to shut you up.”
Last Thursday’s bizarre announcement sadly continues a pattern of misuse of DOJ by the Biden administration over the past year. Equally disturbing is the lack of appropriate pushback from Attorney General Merrick Garland. Instead, there has been a kind of listless acquiescence to politically driven directives.
It’s not supposed to be this way. The attorney general is a Cabinet member unlike any other. While the DOJ may support certain policy goals of a president, such as an emphasis on violent crime or cyber crime, it must maintain a healthy, independent distance from the White House. In theory, this is because no one is above the law — even the president and his staff are subject to investigation, if warranted.
But there is another important rationale. No reasonable person wants a department that has daunting powers to surveil, tap and arrest people to be used simply to further one party’s policy objectives over the other’s. Neither the president nor the attorney general legitimately possesses such an authority.
And yet, President Biden, more than once, has inappropriately used the DOJ as “muscle” for politically driven motivations that were important to the president or his handlers. The threat against Alabama Republicans is the latest example. There have been others worth recalling.
Last October, Biden unleashed the DOJ to intimidate parents around the country who had begun protesting school board policies that aligned with Democratic Party agendas. Garland dutifully issued an obsequious memo directing the FBI and U.S. attorneys to focus resources on potential acts of violence against school boards.
Since there had been zero actual acts of violence associated with the parental protests, the memo was seen for what it was: a message of intimidation by a powerful department to chill speech the president’s party didn’t like. It was a gross misuse of DOJ authority. The FBI rightly shoved it into a bottom drawer.
And then, in early November, the DOJ’s Southern District of New York had the FBI execute pre-dawn search warrants at two homes of journalists believed to be in possession of a diary belonging to Biden’s adult daughter. What isn’t clear, based on facts known publicly, is why the president’s daughter’s diary would be a matter of federal investigative interest, particularly in light of the journalists’ claimed efforts to return the diary to both Ashley Biden and law enforcement prior to the searches.
What is clear is that the search appears to be an effort to ensure that any copies of the diary were located, thereby reducing the risk that information potentially embarrassing to the president or his daughter would come to light. Conducting an intrusive and intimidating law enforcement search of a private home to protect a U.S. president from embarrassment would be a corrupt misuse of authority.
If the diary had belonged to an Ashley Smith instead of Ashley Biden it is doubtful that even the NYPD would have investigated, let alone the DOJ and the FBI. As it stands now, this looks like the president directed the Justice Department to act in an inappropriate manner purely to protect himself politically.
By now, Biden must feel pretty confident that the DOJ is his personal police force. Outrage over its tactics has been muted and the attorney general doesn’t push back. So it’s no surprise that the administration invented DOJ superpowers this past week to intimidate politicians who hold different views.
The absurd threat against Alabama state lawmakers was uttered by a presidential administration building a track record of abusive, made-up authorities. The Department of Justice doesn’t — and can’t — put state legislators “on notice.” Imagine if some other president implied DOJ consequences for, say, New York state legislators considering a piece of gun control legislation that the administration believed violated the Second Amendment.
It’s disturbing enough that we have a president who believes there are provisions articulated in the Constitution or federal law that give teachers and doctors or other third-party adults the right to steer prepubescent children toward life-altering drugs and/or surgeries and, if deemed necessary, not tell their parents. But that we also have a president who would abuse the levers of law enforcement to intimidate any opposition to his administration’s extremist views is, perhaps, even more dangerous.
We need executives within the DOJ to fight for proper independence and resist the manipulations of the politically power-hungry. The Justice Department should be no president’s Luca Brasi.
Kevin R. Brock is a former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI and principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). He independently consults with private companies and public-safety agencies on strategic mission technologies.