Trump, the fired feds and St. Preet
Fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara walks down a line of well-wishers March 13, 2017, in front of the New York office where he worked. (Larry Neumeister / AP)
President Donald Trump’s firing of U.S. attorneys across the country was terrible, Democrats and many TV talking heads and other media sages agreed.
And this wholesale firing was offered up as yet another example of Trumpian imperial whim breathing its hot Big Orange authoritarian breath down upon the necks of the people.
"One would have thought they’d have handled it better," a worried Wolf Blitzer at CNN said of the Trump White House to his colleagues on a panel.
"They’re off to a very slow start," said CNN’s Jim Acosta of the Trump administration. "So it’s not surprising they’d do it in this fashion."
"This is not the first time we’ve seen messy rollouts or messy firings in one way or another," lamented CNN’s White House reporter Jeremy Diamond, who was sporting a rather nice beard.
"This is the same issue that is afflicting this administration that afflicted it during the travel ban rollout, right?" Diamond added. "This lack of coordination and perhaps a lack of respect for prior precedent and protocol and the way things were done in past administrations, where they’re really throwing out the playbook and doing what they prefer to do."
Ah, savor the lines: The lack of respect for precedent! The disregard of protocol! Throwing out the playbook!
What does it mean?
It means the rule of law is subject to the whims of a despot, that’s what it means.
And all that was missing was a lute, or rude harp, some medieval cone-shaped hats festooned with bells and a dark common room smelling of roast onions and ale, where minstrels would sing to us of the end of the republic.
In some other age, before common literacy and cable news, the account of Trump and the federal prosecutors would have happened this way:
We’d have sat near the hearth at some rustic, smelly inn to hear how the ruthless king fired all the good sheriffs of the realm.
And Ed the Tinker’s Son or Maeve the Wise or Pip the Witless would terrify the small folk with their stories of King Donald as a fire-breathing dragon burning the flesh of the righteous, merely to sate his insatiable appetite for power: the great orange beast unbound and loose upon the land!
There were many breathless accounts, the tone of which were at once alarmed and jittery. That tone, fanned by Democrats, led to much hand-wringing about this terrible state of affairs.
And it all quickly became something of a media echo chamber, with much rhythmic pounding, with "lack of respect for precedent … throwing out the playbook" and so on crashing against the national eardrums.
There’s just one small problem with this epic about Trump breaking precedent to fire the feds.
It’s not true.
It is not uncommon for presidents to dismiss federal prosecutors all at once. It’s been going on for decades.
The post of U.S. attorney is a political job. And when national politics change, so do federal prosecutors. Federal prosecutors aren’t angels sent by God. They’re lawyers, some politically ambitious, sent by presidents.
"Elections matter," Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder explained when he lopped off federal prosecutors in favor of Obama appointees. "It is our intention to have the U.S. attorneys that are selected by President Obama in place as quickly as they can."
Democrats didn’t complain when the Obama White House did it, and Republicans weren’t terrified when the Bush White House installed federal prosecutors. The Clinton White House fired more than 90 U.S. attorneys in one day.
So why does the media wring its hands?
Because Trump is the president, that’s why, and the media loathes him.
Zachary Fardon, the U.S. attorney in Chicago who tendered his resignation letter upon presidential request the other day, understands that the federal job is a political one.
Preet Bharara, the dramatic and media savvy U.S. attorney in New York, understands this too.
But he played a much different game, tweeting out that he would not resign, that the president would have to fire him, and guess what? He was fired.
Journos seized this, and worried it in their teeth, and Bharara fed it and there is speculation his office was investigating Fox News, (aka the Trump News Network) and that was the reason for his dismissal.
But if any ongoing federal investigations were to be killed for political reasons, a torrent of angry leaks would follow.
In the meantime, it might just be that Bharara wasn’t a victim, but a political player feeding his ego by helping erode the rule of law. That’s dangerous.
Bharara’s drama ended in a staged departure with throngs of feds out on the steps of the federal building in New York applauding him, and he shook hands and thanked them as TV news cameras recorded every adoring moment. All he needed was some Braveheart face paint.
Even Joan of Arc would have been jealous of such Bhararan adoration. But the poor illiterate girl was captured by the Burgundians and later burned as a heretic.
Bharara won’t be burned. He’s no heretic. He’s a political cat growing his brand. He could run for governor of New York or mayor, as a Democrat, against Democrats he investigated when he held the federal hammer.
And that’s politics too.
Listen to "The Chicago Way" podcast — with John Kass and Jeff Carlin — at http://wgnradio.com/category/wgn-plus/category/thechicagoway.