WASHINGTON – Since President Trump took office, the Justice Department has come under sustained attack as it questioned whether the lawyers and investigators serving the country were loyalists who supported his personal agenda or traitors who should be rooted out and fired.
But under President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., former and current ministry employees are hoping his choice for attorney general will shield the agency from partisan battles and political concerns.
More than 40 current and former ministry employees shared with the New York Times that they believe they should lead the Justice Department. They all wanted someone who would stand up for employees and protect them from undue political influence, which they say Mr. Trump’s attorneys general have been largely unable or unwilling to do.
They said restoring the department’s independence from the White House, restoring morale, and involving racial justice advocates and law enforcement officials on race and criminal justice issues were key issues. bigger issues facing the new ruler.
More than a dozen people have said they hope Mr Biden will appoint Sally Q. Yates, the former deputy attorney general in the Obama administration who was fired by President Trump for refusing to defend his executive order banning the entry into the United States A country with a Muslim majority.
Because she had so recently served as the department’s senior official, current and former employees of the department have said they believe Ms. Yates will be ready from the start to tackle the broad national security threats the department faces. country is facing. As a staunch civil rights advocate under President Barack Obama, she would be able to revitalize the racial justice work that had languished under the Trump administration, they said.
They bristled with widespread reports that Mr Biden would disqualify her because he feared the prospect of a difficult confirmation hearing. Focusing on a two-day steak before Congress, they said, would give a brief glimpse of the seriousness of the job at hand.
Two people pleaded for Doug Jones, the outgoing senator from Alabama who, as an American lawyer during the Clinton administration, sued members of the Ku Klux Klan who bombed 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, killing four black girls. Mr Jones shares the quality that seems, more than any other, essential to securing a nomination from Mr Biden – he is a close friend of the new president.
One person said he thought District of Columbia Circuit Appeals Judge Merrick Garland, whose Supreme Court Republicans were stranded in 2016, would be ideal, citing his reputation equity.
Mr Biden’s choice of attorney general was complicated by the fact that his son, Hunter Biden, is under federal investigation for possible tax crimes, which puts some of the math above the bank. choice. Among the questions that the selection now raises is whether it is an asset or a liability for the Attorney General to be known as a close friend when that person needs to handle such a sensitive case, and whether Mr. Biden is will turn away from someone known as strict adherence to the rule of .
The choice took on some urgency on Saturday after Mr. Trump again attacked Attorney General William P. Barr, this time for not publicly disclosing the investigation. Doing so, he argued, could have helped sway the elections in his favor, and public excoriation sparked a new wave of speculation that he would fire Mr Barr and replace him with a loyalist who the government claims. Ministry employees, could inflict untold damage on the institution.
“Why did Bill Barr not reveal the truth to the public, ahead of the election, about Hunter Biden,” Trump said on Twitter, referring to the federal inquiry. Department of Justice policies prohibit public discussion of matters that may influence the outcome of elections.
Some of those interviewed for this article said that the new attorney general should have extensive national security experience and expertise in domestic terrorism issues and the challenges of foreign adversaries like China and Iran.
While Democratic administrations often prioritize the work of the civil rights division, protests sparked over George Floyd’s death this spring have made that work an urgent priority, regardless of which party is in power, most said. of the people interviewed. To that end, they hoped for an attorney general who would enjoy the strong support of civil rights groups. But many agreed that for this to be correlative, on complex issues like policing, that person should be able to work with groups like the Fraternal Order of Police.
People were deeply divided over how the department should handle the prospect of investigating Mr. Trump or his entourage. Some have argued that Mr Biden himself has no desire to investigate and prosecute the past and that the attorney general should take a similar approach. Others, mostly prosecutors, said the department should pursue criminal cases without fear or favor.
But interviewees agreed on one thing: The merits of a case should determine whether the ministry chose to seek an indictment, and only someone considered non-partisan could credibly render and explain this. kind of tricky decision.
Almost everyone has said the new attorney general should reinstate the idea that the prosecution will be free from political pressure from the president.
“The reputation and credibility of the department has been severely damaged by the way it has been used for political ends,” said Jonathan M. Smith, former attorney in the Civil Rights Division who is now executive director of Washington Lawyers. “Commission for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
He said Mr Barr had made a significant contribution to this process by intervening in high-profile cases involving the president’s allies, such as the ministry’s withdrawal from the prosecution of the president’s first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, and the presentation of the special advocate. report Russian interference in the 2016 election as less overwhelming for the president than it really was. But he said the problem of politicization had spread throughout the agency, preventing career prosecutors from effectively investigating police misconduct.
Some current and former employees have argued that management’s decision to largely eliminate career people from decision-making has contributed to politicization. Others argued that this was not entirely unusual and was done because of the large amount of information that found its way into the hands of reporters during the Trump era. Regardless, everyone agreed that it hurt morale.
The new attorney general should seek the opinions of career leaders before speaking out on important issues, a long-time former ministry employee said. Moreover, this leader, the former employee said, should trust MPs to bring important matters to senior leaders when necessary.
An attorney general who took “a more inclusive, trust-based and less hierarchical approach to management” could help restore the culture of the ministry, said Julie Saltman, a former lawyer in the Civil Division. “I would like to see a very good manager.”
Many employees have said they want an attorney general who will support their desire for accountability in the wake of the Trump era, even if no member of the current administration is prosecuted.
In a survey of more than 600 Justice Department alumni conducted by the legal group Protect Democracy, 77% said the attorney general should work to identify all the ways the outgoing administration has eroded standards and ministry policies and put in place new procedures to restore its integrity. Only 5% said a change of administration alone would restore credibility and morale.
“For the government to rebuild the standards around the independence of the Justice Department, there has to be an account of what happened and who was involved,” said Rachel Homer, a former lawyer for the division. civil.