Legal expert warns: Barr’s firing of SDNY prosecutor illustrates the frightening ‘Orbánification of the American system of governance’
Attorney General William Barr is being inundated with criticism over the firing of federal prosecutor Geoffrey Berman from the Southern District of New York, which has been conducting investigations of President Donald Trump and his allies. One of those critics is attorney Paul Rosenzweig, who served as a senior counsel during the investigation of President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s. And in an article for The Atlantic, Rosenzweig warns that the firing of Berman is the type of thing one would expect from far-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
“The real question is: why? Why replace Berman now, just five months before the election?,” Rosenzweig writes. “The answer lies in the firing earlier this year of Jessie Liu, the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.”
Rosenzweig continues, “By firing Liu, Barr and his team took control of the Washington, D.C. U.S. attorney’s office. Until they did that, the office was following up on various indictments and charges that had been brought against Trump’s associates. Once they seized control, Barr’s team intervened to short-circuit that process. They interceded in the sentencing of Roger Stone, and more recently, they have made an effort to dismiss the case against Michael Flynn.”
Rosenzweig goes on to warn that undermining a country’s checks and balances and encouraging a president’s cronies to believe they are above the law is characteristic of authoritarians.
“This is how an authoritarian works to subvert justice,” Rosenzweig asserts. “He purports to uphold the forms of justice — in this case, the formal rule that the attorney general and the president exercise hierarchical control over the U.S. attorneys — while undermining the substance of justice. In the Flynn case, for example, Barr has asserted an absolute, unreviewable authority to bring and dismiss cases at will — a power that, even if legally well founded, is a subversion of justice when misused.”
According to Rosenzweig, it is no coincidence that Barr fired a federal prosecutor who was investigating Trump and his cronies.
“Barr may want Berman out so that he can use his newly enhanced control to dismiss or short-circuit all of the pending cases in Manhattan that implicate Trump or his associates,” Rosenzweig writes. “We know those are many. We know that Trump’s various organizations, including his inauguration committee, are under investigation. We know that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is under investigation. We know that Trump’s bank, Deutsche Bank, is under investigation.”
Rosenzweig warns that Barr is leading the “Orbánification of the American system of governance” — a reference to Viktor Orbán. Following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hungary emerged as one of the new post-Soviet Union democracies in that part of the world. But Orbán, since becoming prime minster, has done everything he can to undermine democracy in Hungary — not unlike Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines or Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey.
“The attorney general’s apparent goal is to turn the Department of Justice into an arm of the president’s personal interests,” Rosenzweig explains. “He seems to have no regard for the Department’s independence and is doing long-term damage to the fabric of American justice…. Like strongmen everywhere, Barr and Trump seek to exalt their interests over those of the nation. And this latest effort — seemingly to short-circuit the ongoing criminal investigation of Trump’s affiliates and associates — is only the most recent evidence.”