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'It's a banana republic': A judge tore into the Justice Department because of Trump's 'disturbing' attacks

'It's a banana republic': A judge tore into the Justice Department because of Trump's 'disturbing' attacks
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton gave the Justice Department a pointed rebuke last September because of President Donald Trump's relentless attacks on former Deputy FBI Director Andy McCabe, new documents released on Friday showed.

At the time, McCabe was the target of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department for charges that arose regarding his apparent lies during an inspector general investigation. But as was also revealed on Friday, the department has now determined that it will not pursue charges against McCabe in this matter.

Judge Walton was overseeing a related Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the non-profit watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics Washington. In September, the Justice Department was seeking delays in the case because it hadn't yet decided how it would handle the potential charges against McCabe. But Walton didn't think it was appropriate to drag out the process.

Assistant U.S. Attorney J.P. Cooney told the court that the situation surrounding the case had been "exceedingly difficult."

He didn't say why it was so difficult, but it's not hard to imagine why. Trump has publicly lambasted McCabe for years, and he clearly wanted him prosecuted. Though the potential charges are entirely unrelated, Trump's animus at McCabe stems from the former deputy director's role leading the Russia investigation.

Judge Walton's comments, which had previously been sealed, reflected broader concerns in the public and the media that Trump's efforts to publicly pressure the Justice Department are corrupting the rule of law.

"I fully appreciate the complexity of the assessment, especially, unfortunately, to be candid in light of the way by the White House, which I don't think top executive officers should be doing," Walton said. "Because it does I think really complicate your ability to get a fair adjudication from the government's perspective."

He continued: "Because the public is listening to what's going on, and I don't think people like the fact that you got somebody at the top basically trying to dictate whether somebody should be prosecuted. I just think it's a banana republic when we go down that road and we have those type of statements being made that are conceivably even if not influencing the ultimate decision, I think there are a lot of people on the outside who perceive that there is undo inappropriate pressure being brought to bear."

He added that the "mess" created by the inappropriate pressure was "disturbing."

"I just think the integrity of the process is being unduly undermined by inappropriate comments and actions on the part of people at the top of our government," Walton said. "I think it's very unfortunate. And I think as a government and as a society we're going to pay a price at some point for this."

It seemed Cooney took the judge's remarks seriously, accepting a shorter timeline and saying that he would "report back" on the court's complaints.

"I want to assure the court that I and others involved in this take our representation of the United States and the Department of Justice very seriously," Cooney said. The judge made clear, though, that he wasn't criticizing the prosecutor himself.

After Walton agreed on the extension, Anne Weismann, a lawyer for CREW, was allowed to speak to the judge.

"Sadly, we're in dark times where there's growing evidence that the president, aided by the attorney general, is using the power of his office to go after perceived political enemies," she said. "He's going after the intelligence community. He's going after the law enforcement community. And we believe that Mr. McCabe was swept up in that."

"Going after the courts, too," the judge interjected.

"And he's going after the courts, the press," Weismann agreed. "It's hard to find someone who isn't a victim of his abuse of powers."

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