By Naomi Lin, White House Reporter
President Joe Biden is politicizing the Justice Department, according to some Republican critics, echoing a charge he made against former President Donald Trump while vowing to be different.
The White House insists the DOJ is independent of Biden as the department responds to Georgia’s election law, Texas’s abortion legislation, and parents who are angry with their children’s school boards. The department is also preparing to consider measures regarding Congress’s investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill sacking.
Boundaries between legitimate Justice Department inquiry and political targeting have not blurred — they have been obliterated, according to Bud Cummins, a President George W. Bush-appointed U.S. attorney from Arkansas who worked under Attorney General John Ashcroft.
“DOJ should be staffed with career people and presidential appointees who understand their responsibility to act neutrally and discretely,” he told the Washington Examiner of the DOJ. “Once the appointments are made, the White House should stand back.”
For Cummins, Bush-era Attorney General Alberto Gonzales may have blurred White House-Justice Department lines when he complied with administration personnel requests in 2006 without exercising his own judgment. But that was a minor infraction compared to the DOJ’s management of 2016 election matters before Biden took office, he contended.
“Blatant politics drove Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s ethical mishandling of the investigation into Secretary Hillary Clinton’s intentional exposure of classified emails to foreign enemies,” Cummins said. “The actions of now-infamous DOJ characters surrounding Michael Flynn and Russian ‘collusion’ can only be characterized as political or incompetent. Probably both, with a healthy dose of arrogance mixed in.”
“If there was ever any doubt about the Biden DOJ, it is completely eliminated by their treatment of the Jan. 6 protest at the U.S. Capitol, attempts to reinstate election integrity in various states, and suspicion of terrorist acts by school parents,” he added.
Jessica Anderson, conservative policy advocacy organization Heritage Action’s executive director, echoed Cummins’s complaints. Biden is weaponizing the DOJ by “using its army of unelected bureaucrats to intimidate state legislatures and subject Americans to a far-left agenda that we did not sign up for,” she argued.
“Attorney General Merrick Garland has led the DOJ to repeatedly pursue power grabs that are appeasing the Left’s agenda instead of seeking justice and fighting crime — we cannot allow Garland’s abuse of the DOJ to fly under the radar,” Anderson said.
The White House has been pushed on Biden’s relationship with the DOJ after promising the department would be an impartial arm of his administration.
Biden prompted another round of questions last week when he told reporters he believed the DOJ should prosecute people who defy subpoenas issued by the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack. The chamber last week found former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for declining to speak with and hand over documents to the panel. Garland now has to decide whether to prosecute Bannon, which, if successful, could lead to fines or prison time.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki referred to her own Jan. 6 subpoena statement when needled on the development. Biden maintains the DOJ “has the purview and the independence to make decisions about prosecutions,” Psaki said, differentiating inquiries from policymaking.
“You say that that is his view, but that is not what he said,” a reporter said.
Psaki replied: “I just conveyed what his view is, and that is also how he has operated, how he has governed, and how he will continue to govern. And I think that’s what’s important for people to watch.”
“Trump used his office to incite an insurrection,” she added. “He put political pressure on senior DOJ officials to propagate lies about the election to the point where they threatened to resign en masse. I think there’s hardly a comparison there.”
Garland has been criticized for sharing a memo in October on how the DOJ would collaborate with state and local authorities to address illegal threats of violence and harassment against school board members over mask mandates and critical race theory. The message was disseminated after the National School Boards Association wrote to Biden in September about incidents it claimed were “the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
The Supreme Court last week also agreed to review Texas’s “heartbeat” abortion law, which offers a $10,000 reward to private citizens who sue abortion providers and anyone who helps recipients, and whether the Justice Department could file suit against the state to block the legislation. Biden directed the department in September “to see what steps the federal government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.”
Garland announced this month the DOJ is “seriously and urgently” looking at how states are reforming their elections or redistricting to make sure they are not infringing federal voting rights. The department sued Georgia in June over its new rules after Biden described them as bordering “on being immoral.”
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