“The Justice Department is an extraordinarily left-wing institution.”
I heard it, and I couldn’t believe it.
Yet that’s what former House Speaker and Trump advisor Newt Gingrich told NPR’s Rachel Martin yesterday on Morning Edition.
The federal department that just yesterday filed a legal brief arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation is “extraordinarily left-wing”?
The federal department that includes, for example, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (which oversees the U.S. prison system and by extension the largest prison population in the world), is “extraordinarily left-wing”?
The federal department that, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, intends to punish sanctuary cities for resisting the department’s efforts to deport low-level offenders, is “extraordinarily left-wing”?
The federal department that, even under the Democratic administration of President Obama, prosecuted 82 percent of criminal referrals of individuals, but only 12 percent of corporations, is “extraordinarily left-wing”?
Because let’s be clear: There is nothing “extraordinarily left-wing” about our two-tiered justice system in the United States — or the Department of Justice’s role in creating it.
In fact, the Justice Department’s recent history shows a record of prosecutorial failure and slap-on-the-wrist settlements when it comes to the corporate elite and politically powerful.
The most glaring example is the Obama administration’s Justice Department’s failure to prosecute even one corporation or top executive for the brazen recklessness and wrongdoing that led to the Great Recession.
The catastrophe took trillions from regular Americans, unleashed economic turmoil that set back workers (both the 8.7 million who lost jobs and those who retained jobs, not to mention the devastation suffered by millennial job-seekers) and further polarized American wealth distribution, concentrating a greater share of the world’s wealth among billionaires.
There’s nothing inherently partisan about holding corporate criminals accountable. Yet despite the fact that corporate crime harms society far more than crimes committed by individuals, the bipartisan trend has been toward lenience for corporations and executives.
Between 2004 and 2014, the Justice Department’s corporate criminal prosecutions dropped by nearly a third, 29 percent. The decline in prosecutions can be traced back to fallout from the collapse of Enron’s accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the corporation’s conviction — a tale reiterated in the new book about this decline, Jesse Eisinger’s aptly titled The Chickenshit Club.
During his NPR interview, Gingrich characterized the attorneys brought in to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s Russia ties as “killers.” In an effort to portray Justice Department staff as biased, he said, “If you believe the Justice Department does not have a deep cultural bias, and you believe the average conversation you have in the Justice Department is not anti-Trump, you’re just living in a fantasy land.”
If anything, Gingrich should take heart in the Justice Department’s treatment of elite criminals and Trump’s peers among the corporate class. Recent history shows that if anyone is living in a fantasy land, it is those among the elite who dream up persecution fantasies to discredit legal proceedings against them.
Perhaps Gingrich’s comments are most striking in the context of President Trump’s efforts to portray himself during the campaign as the “law and order” candidate.
Last year, Trump tweeted:
This election is a choice between law, order & safety – or chaos, crime & violence. I will make America safe again for everyone. #ImWithYou
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2016
When politicians like Trump talk about law and order, there are certain kinds of crimes they are talking about — those more likely to be committed by lower-income Americans and minorities — and certain kinds of crimes they are not — those more likely to be committed by corporations and their professional peers.
The American people, of course, are best served by a legal system that strives for fairness and equal protection under the law.
Clearly we still have a lot of striving to do. But if sentiments like Gingrich’s attempts to politicize the Justice Department’s record take hold, it will be a tremendous setback for those of us doing the striving.
Rick Claypool is a research director for Public Citizen’s president’s office. Follow him on Twitter @Rick Claypool.