'Fear and the paralysis is the point': Former federal prosecutor warns Trump will bully and intimidate any DOJ officials who investigate him

'Fear and the paralysis is the point': Former federal prosecutor warns Trump will bully and intimidate any DOJ officials who investigate him
William Barr image via PBS NewsHour

In his July 2 column for USA Today, former federal prosecutor Michael J. Stern describes a pattern in which President Donald Trump — with the help of Attorney General William Barr — has gone about trying to bully and intimate any U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials who investigate him. And based on recent communications with DOJ employees he knows, Stern asserts, he has to conclude that Trump’s campaign of intimidation is working.


Stern, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor, writes that he has a list of family, friends and DOJ employees he sends his articles to. And recently, Stern notes, he has been receiving e-mails from some DOJ employees saying things like, “Please keep sending me your articles, but don’t send them to my office e-mail anymore.”

Stern goes on to note why they feel that way: they fear becoming a target of Trump.

“Over the past two years,” Stern writes, “the president has publicly buried government employees who investigated criminal activity connected to him or his campaign. FBI Director James Comey, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page all worked on the investigation that documented Russian election interference designed to help Trump take the White House. All were fired or forced from their jobs.”

Trump’s vow to “investigate the investigators,” Stern warns, is designed to make DOJ workers look the other way if they come across evidence of wrongdoing.

“The president’s public campaign to turn the tables on the investigators is not limited to tyrannical retribution,” Stern warns. “It is designed to make prosecutors and agents second-guess every move they make in future investigations for fear of becoming a target of the agency that employs them.”

Stern continues, “It’s designed to make them think: if I seek a wiretap on a Trump associate who is actively involved in criminal activities, will I end up spending the rest of my career prosecuting illegal reentry cases? Or, will DOJ assign someone to look through every text on my work phone, like they did to Strzok and Page? What will they do with the embarrassing personal texts they find?”

The former DOJ prosecutor ends his July 2 column on an ominous note, warning that “Trump and his eager henchman Barr have made clear that agents and prosecutors who investigate the president, his administration or his campaign are at risk of losing their jobs, their reputations and even their freedom.”

“For law enforcement agents and prosecutors, second-guessing means lost opportunities and investigations that fizzle when they should spark,” Stern asserts. “For Donald Trump, investigative palsy is not an unfortunate side effect of the most recent iteration of his DOJ takeover. Fear and the paralysis that follows is the point.”

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