People For the American Way

Whistleblower Hearing Shows Current DOJ Is Worse than in Watergate

News and Analysis
Whistleblower Hearing Shows Current DOJ Is Worse than in Watergate
Photo via The United States Department of Justice, Wikimedia Commons

The House Judiciary Committee heard riveting testimony on June 24 from two career lawyers at the Department of Justice (DOJ) who have courageously blown the whistle on DOJ’s blatant politicization under William Barr. As Chair Jerrold Nadler pointed out, we are now seeing “injustice at the Justice Department” that, as Rep. Zoe Lofgren put it, is “worse than Watergate” under Richard Nixon and John Mitchell.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Zelinsky testified that career prosecutors’ recommendations about the sentencing of Trump crony Roger Stone were pushed aside, and replaced by a more lenient suggested sentence. Zelinsky explained that he was “repeatedly” told that Stone was treated differently from any other criminal defendant “because of his relationship to the President,” and that the acting U.S. Attorney in D.C.  gave Stone such favorable treatment “because he was afraid of the President.” John Elias, a career attorney in DOJ’s Antitrust Division, testified that enormous resources went into fruitless investigations because of the personal biases of Barr and Trump against the cannabis industry and against the deal struck by automakers and California to reduce auto emissions.

A third witness, Republican Donald Ayer, who was Deputy Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush, concluded that Barr poses the “greatest threat in my lifetime” to the rule of law, after cataloguing Barr’s many improper actions concerning the Mueller report and other issues.

Republicans on the committee resorted to their usual tactics of attempting to disrupt the hearing and divert attention from the troubling testimony. But the message came through loud and clear. When I was chief oversight counsel for the committee during the George W. Bush Administration, I thought I saw disturbing politicization of DOJ under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But that was amateur hour compared with the conduct of the department under William Barr.

During the hearing, it was announced that Barr himself has finally agreed to appear for an oversight hearing before the committee at the end of July. But the most important oversight verdict on DOJ and the entire Trump Administration will be up to the voters this November.