One of my favorite movies is The Sheepman starring Glenn Ford. It is the story of Jason Sweet (Glenn Ford) who won a herd of sheep in a poker game and was bound and determined to graze the sheep on the open ranges of what was then cattle country. (It is a loose take on the famed Johnson County War.) The story begins when Sweet rides into town and asks one of the locals who is the toughest man in town. He is pointed to a bar where he confronts Jumbo McCall (Mickey Shaughnessy) and goads him into a fight. Sweet’s reasoning is that if he beats the toughest guy in town – and he does – he will have a lot less trouble from others when he brings the sheep into town. I think of this movie every time I hear President-elect Donald Trump talk about “draining the swamp” in Washington, D.C. and more so now that he has waffled on pursuing an investigation into former rival Hillary Clinton (D).
The recent presidential campaign was a bitter contest. Ms. Clinton, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and their inner circle have made “the politics of personal destruction” an art form. But they weren’t prepared for Mr. Trump who, unlike their previous Republican opponents, refused to back down and was no slouch at throwing a few low blows himself.
At various times Ms. Clinton and/or her compliant mainstream media accused Mr. Trump of being a misogynist, a racist, a homophobe, and a xenophobe – all in the liberal lexicon when lacking specifics. Ms. Clinton and her fellow travelers accused Mr. Trump of lacking compassion, being irrational, and in a tribute to past Democrats (President Lyndon Johnson) unfit to access the nation’s nuclear codes. Mr. Trump referred to Ms. Clinton as “Crooked Hillary” while accusing her of aiding and abetting Mr. Clinton’s sexual abuse of women, exposing the nation’s top secret documents to hackers, lying repeatedly regarding her actions, withholding and destroying public records (her emails) and using the Clinton Foundation and her position as Secretary of State in a massive “pay to play” scheme. He demanded that she be held accountable and said she should be in jail. Please note that Ms. Clinton’s accusations are all subjective and thus true or false based on the relative emotional sensitivity of the audience, while Mr. Trump’s accusations are all objective and based upon real, if incomplete, facts. (For those of you forced to endure a teachers’ union controlled education in the Portland Public Schools, “subjective” means “influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions” while “objective” means “not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.”)
Mr. Trump’s fiery rhetoric and threat to put Ms. Clinton in jail made for entertaining campaign rallies when it was uncertain as to whether he would win the presidency. However, in the cold light of reality after winning the election, things look different. I can well imagine the struggle Mr. Trump is having with regard to the Clintons who he has known socially for thirty years.
First, there is the concern that a post-election pursuit of the Clintons will appear vindictive. That is probably more of a concern given the tenor of the two campaigns. (You can bet that the Clintons would have loosed the power of the federal government (IRS, SEC, EPA, NLRB, and other agencies) to investigate and punish Mr. Trump and his multitude of businesses for the temerity of running against the entitled Ms. Clinton).
Second, at a time when Mr. Trump is trying to reunite the country, pursuit of the Clintons can instead re-kindle the divisions. And third, Mr. Trump may believe that Ms. Clinton has already suffered enough given her loss of the presidency – a goal that she has been pursuing for more than fifteen years and for which she has suffered two public and humiliating losses.
However, those are all personal concerns to Mr. Trump, not national concerns. As such they are simply irrelevant if we are to return to the status of a “nation of laws” rather than “the whim and caprice” of a powerful president – a status that grew to an abusive level under President Barack Obama and was enforced by a politically corrupt Attorney General, Eric Holder (and subsequently Loretta Lynch). Under Mr. Obama political corruption soared (IRS scandal, Obamacare scandals, Benghazi scandal, Iran nuclear scandal, voter intimidation scandals, Ms. Clinton’s email scandals, refusals to prosecute contempt of Congress scandals and on and on) and in every instance information was delayed, suppressed or destroyed, prosecutions were ignored, and actions were deferred for political allies. In each and every instance, political allies and politically powerful people were protected. Mr. Obama kept his thumb firmly pressed on the scales of justice during his eight years in office. That is precisely the “swamp” that Mr. Trump vowed to drain – a swamp in which the rules do not apply to the politically connected.
And if you are to “drain the swamp” the lessons of Jason Sweet in The Sheepman will serve Mr. Trump well – take out the biggest reptiles first which sends a signal to the rest of the vermin. And the biggest reptiles of the past three decades are the Clintons.
However, pursuit of the Clintons should not be a personal decision of Mr. Trump’s making – it is a decision for others in the justice system to make based upon facts following a thorough, and this time, unbiased investigation. A decision to prosecute by Mr. Trump is just as bad as a decision to spike the investigation. While the President is the Commander in Chief, he is not the Prosecutor in Chief – that position is reserved for the Attorney General in order to minimize political abuses in the justice system. In this instance there needs to actually be even more distance between the President and the decision to prosecute – an independent special counsel.
Therefore, Mr. Trump should do the following:
1. Announce that he is withdrawing from any decision to investigate and/or prosecute the Clintons, including reviewing the results of the investigation, or receiving updates on the progress. He needs to remain studiously ignorant as to what proceeds. (That includes remaining silent with regard to any further activities in such an investigation and or prosecution.)
2. Announce that the decision to investigate and/or prosecute the Clintons will, as the law requires, rest with the Department of Justice.
3. Instruct the Attorney General to appoint special prosecutors who will remain independent of the Attorney General after appointment and who will direct the investigation by the FBI and other agencies and make the decision as to whether to indict and prosecute the Clintons.
4. Request that FBI Director James Comey recuse himself and any other senior FBI personnel previously involved in the investigations of the Clintons from any participation in the investigation.
5. Instruct the State Department and other federal agencies to cooperate fully with the special prosecutors including delivering all previously requested information that has been withheld or redacted by Clinton loyalists in those agencies.
6. And finally, let the chips fall where they may. However, there should be a full public disclosure of the results of the special prosecutors’ efforts – at the time of any decision not to prosecute and after trials and appeals should the special prosecutors decide to prosecute.
Mr. Trump may think that the Clintons have been punished enough but that, quite frankly, is no more the business of the President than is the investigation and/or prosecution. The decision as to punishment belongs to the judiciary – not the President – as it does in every other criminal proceeding. If Mr. Trump intends to “drain the swamp” and re-establish the principle that the law applies equally to all, he needs to begin with a conversation with the man in the mirror. He needs to insure that his thumb – unlike Mr. Obama’s thumb – is not on the scales of justice.
An aside to all of this is the likelihood that with the Clintons no longer possessing political power, evidence previously withheld or redacted to the point of uselessness and testimony previously withheld will now be available. At some point in time the Democrats will come to acknowledge that the overwhelming responsibility for Ms. Clinton’s loss belonged solely to Ms. Clinton – that she was corrupt, that she corrupted all those around her, and that she never once told the public the truth. Now that Ms. Clinton, and Mr. Obama, and Ms. Lynch cannot protect witnesses, people with intimate knowledge of what occurred will be willing to testify to avoid prosecution themselves. Nobody is going to go to jail to protect Mr. or Ms. Clinton, or for that matter Chelsea Clinton.
It is time to restore the Rule of Law.