A Conundrum … No Easy Answers

Yesterday, I wrote with some annoyance about the Department of Justice continuing to support the previous administrations claims that … basically, the former guy could do no wrong and was above the law, no matter how many women he raped and then denigrated publicly.  Today, one of my favourite columnists, Eugene Robinson, has given me pause, caused me to perhaps look at it from a slightly different perspective.  One sentence says it all … “The meaning of the law does not change depending on who is in power.”  While I still do not support We the Taxpayers having to pay to defend a rapist madman, I now have a somewhat better understanding of why the Justice Department is doing what they are doing.  Like Mr. Robinson, I hope Trump, and by extension the U.S. Justice Department, lose the suit to Ms. Carroll, for she is deserving of retribution, but I now understand it better.  And I think it only fair that any restitution to Ms. Carroll come out of the former guy’s pocket, not mine and not yours.

Merrick Garland is right to be cautious about breaking with Trump’s Justice Department

Opinion by 

Eugene Robinson


June 10, 2021 at 4:05 p.m. EDT

As frustrating and galling as it may be to see President Biden’s administration make anything less than a clean break with its predecessors, Attorney General Merrick Garland is right not to peremptorily reverse positions taken by the Justice Department during the Trump era. And his caution is appropriate even if those positions, such as continuing to represent a certain Mar-a-Lago resident in a defamation case, are clearly wrong.

The Justice Department never should have tried to defend Donald Trump in a civil lawsuit filed by advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, who says that Trump, back in his real estate mogul days, raped her in a department store dressing room. When Carroll made her rape allegation public, then-President Trump called her a liar. Carroll responded by suing Trump for defamation, seeking damages.

Trump was initially represented by private counsel. But his Justice Department intervened to have the case moved to U.S. District Court and argued that it should have been dismissed, saying that Trump was a government “employee” acting within “the scope of his employment” when he verbally attacked Carroll, and thus enjoyed immunity for his defamatory words.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled against those claims in October and ordered that Carroll’s lawsuit be allowed to proceed. But Garland’s Justice Department is continuing to defend Trump, even though Kaplan determined that the case should be seen as a private matter between two individuals.

I hope the Justice Department ultimately loses the case and Carroll gets her day in court. But Garland, by staying the course, is sending a powerful message: The Justice Department doesn’t “belong” to Trump or Joe Biden or any one president. The meaning of the law does not change depending on who is in power. We should all swallow hard and accept Garland’s general commitment to some measure of continuity, because the alternative can be much worse.

I know that from personal observation. I was The Post’s South America correspondent three decades ago, at a time when most nations on the continent were emerging from long, dark years of military rule and trying to rebuild their democratic institutions. They all found that once faith in those institutions is lost, it is not easy to regain.

I was based in Buenos Aires, and Argentina’s civilian leadership was still finding its bearings. After years of being lied to by the murderous ruling junta, citizens had little faith in what their elected leaders said. And they had even less faith in the ability of the court system to honestly ascertain truth and deliver justice.

One instructive case study was a brutal rape and murder in Catamarca, a province in the Andean foothills. On a Friday night in September 1990, a 17-year-old girl named Maria Soledad Morales went with some friends to a local dance and never came home. Her tortured and mutilated body was found the following Monday in a roadside ditch. The Catamarca police chief initially said only that she had died from cardiac arrest, but it was later found that she had been brutalized and possibly forced to ingest a lethal dose of cocaine.

Suspicion fell on a group of young men with ties to the Saadi family, a powerful dynasty that had been in control of the province since the days of strongman Juan Perón. But none of these men was arrested by local police, whose statements about the case no one trusted.

The Carmelite nun who ran the school Morales had attended began organizing marches calling for justice, and the demonstrations grew so large that the national government had to respond by sending in a strike force of supposedly “untouchable” investigators. But no one trusted anything they said about the case, either.

The problem was that the Saadis had been political allies of then-President Carlos Menem. The universal assumption was that with Menem in power, there would be no honest and thorough investigation that might hold the Saadis or other powerful people accountable.

Finally, eight years later, two men — one of them a well-connected scion — were convicted of involvement in the murder; they each served time in prison and were released. Many Argentines are convinced — as am I — that the justice system never got anywhere near the full truth of the murder. Ramón Eduardo Saadi, who at the time was the provincial governor, was removed from office in 1991 — but only because of how loud the outcry about the case became.

My point is not that Argentina is uniquely flawed, but that we do not want the United States to become a nation where the default assumption is that justice is always political. We don’t want to be a place where culpability and liability depend on who happens to be president.

So if Garland believes there are plausible reasons for the government to keep defending Trump in Carroll’s defamation suit, I’m glad he’s doing so. His job is to follow the law as he sees it — even when I think he’s dead wrong.

14 thoughts on “A Conundrum … No Easy Answers

  1. Appearances can be deceiving, but allowing a rapist or any other criminal to hide behind the fact of working for the government opens doors to ANYONE working for the government to demand legal representation for any criminal act, up to and including mass murder. Any member of the armed forces can therefore demand to be defended in a drunk and disorderly charge, not to mention court-martial charges. Where does it stop?
    It has to stop right here, right now. Civil and criminal acts cannot be condoned by the government at any level. Garland must step aside and force Trump to defend himself on his own $10 million dime. Anything else opens doors that should be cement walls.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are so right about that! It sets a dangerous precedent for future officeholders. Sadly, it won’t stop right here, right now. And sadly, if the DoJ loses the case, as I fully expect, it will be the taxpayers rather than Trump who pays restitution to Ms. Carroll. I’d like to find a way to sue Trump to get our money back!

      Liked by 1 person

      • You find a lawyer who will take it to court on a contingency fee. He or she will get rich and famous, and your good name will be trashed, but at least you will right the wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I love the idea! Maybe I have that one last BIG battle left in me, eh? But, why would my ‘good’ name be trashed? I thought I might even be hailed as a hero, though frankly I’d rather not. I’d rather remain anonymous!


          • It was just an idea that came to me as I was considering the outcome of such a lawsuit. We know who the loudmouth in the world are: conservatives, republicans, populists. They love to hear themselves scream. If you caused their God to actually pay a fine for himself they would trash your good name, and add all kinds of slurs to it. You might help save democracy from itself, but your heroics would only be appreciated by quiet, down-to-earth people, while your detractors would scream your name from mountaintops. Thus, your name would be trashed.
            Or something like that, lol.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Jill, where this matters most to me is when our country makes agreements or pacts with other countries. We must honor these agreements and not exit them, except in rare cases. When we di not do this, other countries will be reluctant to enter agreements with us and that would be detrimental. On the flip side, it bothered me the previous administration would not defend the ACA in front of the SCOTUS. This law, may be imperfect, but it is helping people. Yet, the Democrats in Congress had to step in and pay for the defense. If we are going to follow Garland’s example, it needs to be followed consistently. Keith

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are quite right … our reputation with our allies has been severely tarnished over the past 4 years and I’m sure it will take time and proof that we are better than that before we will be fully trusted again.

      As re ACA … no policy starts out being perfect … we tweak them as we go along, learning from experience. ACA was never given a proper chance, and it is my hope that now it will be, although I fear that our Congress is going to be in a stalemate situation for … at least the next 18 months, possibly much longer.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Jill, on PBS Newshour, David Brooks and Jonathan Capeheart, in their recap of the week, noted Joe Biden is on a first name basis with the other leaders, but also many of the staff. This will help smooth the waters for agreements. While it is true, Europe has learned it can no longer rely on the US after the previous four years, Biden is correct in saying “America is back.” Keith

        Liked by 2 people

        • That is definitely the way to start off! Just like an employer will earn kudos for knowing his staff by first name and a few little things about them. I always tried to remember the names of the children of the people who reported to me and ask about them when I knew one had been ill or struggling in school. It’s that personal connection and it can make a world of difference. I hear there may be some underlying tensions between Boris Johnson and Biden, and also between the EU and the UK. Still, without the former guy there demanding that Putin be admitted to the G7, it has to be a more pleasant endeavour. We won’t regain trust overnight, but hopefully this is a beginning.


  3. My own problem with what Mr Robinson writes is not that Merrick Garland continues to allow the DoJ to continue with this action once started ‘The meaning of the law does not change depending on who is in power. ‘ but that this type of case should not be dealt with by the DoJ. If an individual is corrupt, even if it’s the President, the public should know. The defendant should not be able to hide an injury committed against someone else because he’s a Government employee. I think Judge Kaplan had it right that the case should go ahead but I do think it wrong that the DoJ should be trying to disprove a case brought against a suspected rapist who damages the reputation of the plaintiff by calling her a liar and not alowing her to fight back.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I fully agree with you that it was NEVER the place of the DoJ to take on such a personal lawsuit, but it was then-Attorney General William Barr, the uber-toadie, who did so at the behest of the former guy. I suspect the DoJ will lose the case, perhaps intentionally. I think Ms. Carroll definitely deserves restitution for being slandered in such a manner, but it shouldn’t be up to the taxpayers to pay such restitution … it should come straight out of the former guy’s pocket! I’m thinking we ought to be able to file a class action suit to get our money back once this is all resolved. Yeah, I know … in my dreams. Sigh.


      Liked by 2 people

    • I feel the same. I like Garland and respect him, but I was puzzled by this until reading Robinson’s OpEd, and then I viewed it a bit differently. I still don’t like taxpayer money being used to defend Trump, but I somewhat understand.

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