IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

GOP senators rediscover their fear of a 'politicized' Justice Dept

Senate Republicans are doing their best to pretend to care about the "politicization" of the Justice Department. It'd be funny if this weren't so serious.
Justice Department Officials Announce Charges Against HSBC
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference to announce money laundering charges against HSBC on December 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. HSBC Holdings plc and HSBC USA NA have agreed to pay $1.92 billion and enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in regards to charges involving money laundering with Mexican drug cartels.Ramin Talaie / Getty Images

Merrick Garland's Senate confirmation hearing went quite smoothly yesterday, though there was a recurring theme stressed by several Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. TPM summarized the story nicely:

A number of Republican senators who blithely supported former Attorney General Bill Barr using his post to act as former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer are suddenly expressing serious concern that Merrick Garland promise to be apolitical in the same role.

At one point during the proceedings, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Garland, "It is very much my hope, if you are confirmed as attorney general, that you will bring that reputation for integrity to the Department of Justice and demonstrate a willingness to stand up to what will be inevitable political pressure to once again politicize the Department of Justice and use it as a tool to attack the political opponents of the current administration."

What was hilarious was that when Cruz raised concerns about the Justice Department "once again" becoming politicized, he was referring to the "Obama-Biden Justice Department."

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) echoed the sentiment, pointing to the "Obama-Biden administration" as an example of an era in which federal law enforcement was politicized.

There was nothing to suggest they were kidding.

Let's take a stroll down memory lane, starting with the Bush/Cheney administration. As longtime readers may recall, the Republican administration fired several U.S. Attorneys who refused to politicize federal prosecutions before congressional elections. (Later, the GOP White House failed to comply with subpoenas in the matter, claiming they'd lost millions of relevant emails. The White House spokesperson at the time, Fox News' Dana Perino, told reporters, "We screwed up.")

We later learned that the entire scheme was engineered by the Bush/Cheney White House, which sought to politicize the Justice Department in unprecedented ways.

As part of the same scandal, Americans were introduced to the phrase "loyal Bushies": a label applied to prosecutors the Republican White House perceived as political allies.

It was around this same time when the public learned of Monica Goodling, who made the transition from being an opposition researcher for the Republican National Committee to scrutinizing applicants seeking non-partisan positions at the Justice Department, testing their partisan purity.

In one notorious instance, Goodling blocked a career prosecutor from being promoted to a key counterterrorism post because she discovered that the prosecutor's wife had donated money to some Democratic congressional candidates.

As the Bush/Cheney era came to a close, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick explained, "What [Eric] Holder stands to inherit from Michael Mukasey and his predecessor Alberto Gonzales is not a Justice Department that was slightly confused about where the law began and politics ended. If confirmed, he will take over an institution where, at least in recent years, politics sometimes had no end."

In the Trump era, the politicization of federal law enforcement reached cartoonish levels, with Republican appointees using the Justice Department to serve the president's political interests, settling scores for Donald Trump, protecting his friends, targeting his enemies, personally intervening in cases of political interest to the White House, and effectively creating two standards for justice in the United States: one for Trump and his team, and one for everyone else.

The system was not designed to have an attorney general who essentially tried to fix criminal cases the president cares about, but that was precisely the operation that Bill Barr went to extraordinary lengths to create.

And yet, throughout the Bush and Trump eras, Senate Republicans were completely indifferent to the politicization of the Justice Department.

If GOP senators expect anyone to take their new fears on the matter seriously, they're likely to be disappointed.