June 15, 2023

A Week for the History Books

Russ Feingold President

For the first time in our country’s history, a former U.S. President has been federally charged and now arraigned. As we said last week, our democracy rests on the rule of law and nobody being above it. DOJ’s indictment of former President Trump is a critical step towards accountability and affirming that the rule of law cannot be overcome by money or title.

I share the concerns about how Judge Cannon will oversee this case. Her legally unsound ruling to block DOJ from reviewing the documents it confiscated from Mar-a-Lago last year lends unease about how she will handle this case going forward. Federal law requires judges to recuse themselves in those cases where their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. We will see how she proceeds. The 11th Circuit overturned and rebuked one of her decisions related to DOJ’s investigation last year, and we have to hope it will be ready to do so again if she disregards the rule of law in handling this criminal case.

This case will play out over many months, if not years. As much as we focus on the eventual outcome, we also must focus on the disinformation being spread now. This case is about accountability and the rule of law. Full stop. And yet, Trump and his supporters are hard at work spinning a false narrative about partisan politics and the politicization of the DOJ. As we talk about this case, it is imperative that we speak truth to lies and center the narrative where it belongs - on the rule of law.

If you haven’t read the indictment, I strongly encourage you to do so. One of the most noteworthy facets of the indictment is what’s not in it. Trump was not charged for retaining any of the documents that he returned prior to DOJ’s 2022 subpoena. Had he returned all the documents when he was first asked to do so, he would most likely not be facing federal charges. This is what makes the “what about-ism” that we are hearing from Trump and his supporters blatantly misleading. Trump allegedly didn’t just intentionally retain classified materials, he sought to thwart the Department’s collection of them – repeatedly.

In addition to the false equivalencies and “what about-isms” coming from Trump and his supporters, I’m deeply alarmed by the attacks directed at the legitimacy of the DOJ. This rhetoric, including calls to “obliterate the deep state" or “clean house” at DOJ, is dangerous. It not only puts in danger the folks working for the FBI and at DOJ, but it fosters distrust in these institutions. It makes people less likely to cooperate with the FBI and to believe DOJ. This can have profound ripple effects beyond this case. We can help counter this disinformation by focusing on the heart of the matter: the rule of law and nobody being above it.

While the criminal case against Trump is monopolizing headlines, there was unrelated big news this week. Four judicial nominees with impeccable civil rights credentials were confirmed to the federal bench. Four confirmations in a week is good progress, but this is just a start to what the Senate needs to do to make up for lost time. Judge Hernán Vera was originally nominated on September 20, 2021, Judge Dale Ho was nominated on September 30, 2021, Judge Nusrat Choudhury on January 19, 2022, and Judge P. Casey Pitts on September 6, 2022. It should not take the Senate a combined five years plus to confirm four exceptional candidates. Our point is this, nobody benefits from waiting. The Senate needs to pick up its pace in confirmations!