Wednesday from the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) called on his Republican colleagues to speak out against President Donald Trump’s threats to “democratic institutions,” adding, “if we say nothing then we’ve become accomplices with the destruction of these democratic norms.”
Partial transcript as follows:
In the annals of the presidents say the darnedest things, last week’s Twitter outbursts will stand out, at least for me. Because the president attacked the attorney general of the United States for simply doing the job that he swore an oath to do. Of course it wasn’t the first time the president has so diminished himself. But this particular slander was leveled at the attorney general for having the temerity to prosecute public corruption by members of Congress who also happen to belong in the president’s political party. That’s right, the president attacked Mr. Sessions by name for refusing to cover up allegations of Republican misconduct. The president’s concern was not for justice, but for the political fortunes of the accused, because their congressional seats might now be at risk of falling to Democrats. In doing this, the president is projecting a vision onto the system of American justice that is both bizarre and, more important, destructive. Of course, the truly shocking thing about this statement from the president is that given that all of us have become accustomed to during this presidency, or even worse, have become numb to. This Twitter eruption was not at all surprising This appalling statement was a threat to our democratic institutions, Mr. President. At this point, it might be too late for tutorials on the American justice system.
But it certainly bears repeating that in order for justice to truly be served, justice must be based in empirical truth and must be absolutely carried out independent of politics, period. No president, any president, administers the justice system in America any more than he or she decrees what is objective truth. In this country, justice and truth operate quite independent of the dictates of even the most powerful of offices. The reasons for this point are obvious to most, but we know by now that this particular president seems to have a profound unease with both justice and truth. And so has been at unrelenting war with both, virtually since the moment he swore the oath. Not because there is any deficiency in justice or truth that requires his intervention, mind you, but for other less noble reasons. The president seems to think that the office confers on him the ability to decide who and what gets investigated in the United States and who and what does not.
Weekly it seems this president has been threatening to, quote, get involved, unquote, in the function of the Justice Department, Sometimes intimating, sometimes plainly threatening to corrupt the independence of justice in America. He has overtly expressed a desire for his political opponents to be investigated and almost two years into his presidency he presides over boisterous rallies where the last election is re-litigated and chants of ‘lock her up’ fill the halls. None of this is normal or acceptable. But it is not mere recklessness. It seems to be a deliberate program by which he intends to weaken the institution of American justice, threaten its independence, and perhaps set the stage for some future assault on it. The firing of the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, and perhaps even the special counsel.
It has been said that the president deserves to have an attorney general of his choice, a top lawyer with whom he is compatible. This is true. The president’s appointment powers are clear and all of the appointments — his appointments serve at the pleasure of the president. But what no president deserves is a top lawyer who is simply there to do his bidding. The attorney general is not the president’s personal lawyer, and his job is not to protect the president from damaging facts or to turn the power of American justice onto the president’s enemies or to direct Justice Department investigations in any particular way that is either politically motivated or presupposes guilt or innocence or favors any outcome whatsoever other than that which is supported by the evidence and truth. The attorney general’s job description, as tweeted last week by the president, bears scant resemblance to the attorney general’s job in a constitutional democracy.
And so I rise today, Mr. President, because the founders gave us, the article one branch of this government that they conceived, the responsibility to curb such reckless behavior. Thus far, I believe that we’ve been all so incredulous at the daily excess and ever hopeful, hopeful beyond any reason, that this president would at last begin to inhabit the office in a more responsible fashion, that we have been somewhat uncertain what to do. First and foremost, we must speak out. We cannot be quiet when the moment requires us to defend the democratic norms under which this system functions and without which our system ceases to function. The president has repeatedly and over time heedlessly breached these norms. If we say nothing then we’ve become accomplices with the destruction of these democratic norms. The United States Senate is not the place to come for deniability. We must do what we can to curb the destructive impulses of this White House. We must encourage the administration of justice. That means voicing our support for Mr. Mueller and his team. We’ve passed bipartisan legislation out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, legislation to protect the special counsel. I call on the majority leader to bring this legislation to the Senate floor. We must also say in no uncertain terms that to call this investigation a witch hunt is wrong. To call Mr. Mueller’s team thugs is wrong. Relentlessly slandering the attorney general of the United States is wrong. It is a travesty. And it is unbecoming of the office of the presidency.
And I would say to the attorney general, stand firm. You’ve spent your life in public service for your country. At the risk of being presumptuous, I would say that these days of your service right now during this crucial period in which we have a president, who in a maligned fashion, is actively testing the limits of power and the administration of American justice and the independence of American justice. Your determination to safeguard the independence of the Justice Department at the time that you have been under assault by the president has verged on heroic. In your long career, you will render no more consequential service to your country. Stand firm, Attorney General Sessions.
I appeal to the leadership of this body to speak out. You don’t have to speak out at every Twitter outburst, but when the president so blatantly calls for the Department of Justice to act as an arm of the Republican party, then the leaders of the Republican party in this body need to stand and say that the president is out of bounds. Mr. President, we all have our polls to conscience. Most recently for me I hear the whispers so well-described a few weeks ago. The whisper over my shoulder that says we are better than this. America is better than this. In a time of rank tribalism, Mr. President, we need to remember that we’re all Americans. That is our only tribe. It is to the rule of law and the ideals of our founding that we owe our allegiance.
Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN