Protect Democracy files amicus brief on political interference in law enforcement matters

Protect Democracy filed an amicus brief in the antitrust suit to block the AT&T/Time Warner merger. The brief was filed on behalf of a bipartisan group of former high-ranking DOJ officials, including former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean, former U.S. Attorneys Preet Bharara, Joyce Vance, and John McKay, and other former DOJ officials. Heidi Przybyla and Pete Williams at NBC reported on the brief late last night here.

The brief is filed on behalf of neither party and takes no position on the underlying merits of the antitrust case.  Rather, it explains that White House interference in law enforcement is likely unconstitutional in most circumstances.  This principle applies generally, “President Trump’s claim to be able to direct federal law enforcement against specific parties is inconsistent with the Constitution.”

In the specific case of the AT&T/Time Warner merger, President Trump’s repeated attacks on CNN for perceived unfavorable coverage and his pledge, made when he was a candidate for president, to block the merger has created a perception—at least by some—that DOJ brought this case at the behest of President Trump in order to punish CNN. If so, that would amount to a constitutional violation of the highest order. The amicus brief asks the Court to allow further inquiry into the issue and, if it turns out that the president did intervene in the matter, to remedy the resulting constitutional violation.

We are also releasing a White Paper (along with an executive summary) that describes the constitutional principles that prohibit political interference in law enforcement. As detailed in the white paper — and a related post on Lawfare — with the exception of certain narrow types of circumstances, it will likely conflict with the Constitution for the White House to intervene in the Justice Department’s handling of an enforcement matter involving specific parties. And if the White House intervention is based on personal or corrupted interests, such interventions will always be unconstitutional. So for example, it would be unconstitutional for the President or the White House to interfere with the Mueller investigation or to pressure the Justice Department to prosecute a political opponent.

Protect Democracy is also releasing a list of examples of White House political interference in law enforcement here.

This is part of Protect Democracy’s project to Protect Independent Law Enforcement.

Read the brief below.