A federal judge appointed by George W. Bush thinks the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Attorney General William Barr is acting like “a banana republic” by targeting enemies of President Donald Trump.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton made the comments during a knock-down, drag-out courtroom argument with government attorneys last September. The topic of debate was indirectly related to the eventual fate of former Deputy Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Andrew McCabe.
Specifically, Walton was sparring with Barr’s apparatchiks over an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit brought by non-profit government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics Washington (CREW), which has long sought documents related to the decision-making process viz. McCabe’s firing in early 2017.
Judge Walton did not mince words:
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. I think there are a lot of people on the outside who perceive that there is undo inappropriate pressure being brought to bear…It’s just, it’s very disturbing that we’re in the mess that we’re in in that regard.
“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 continued. “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.”
The judge even got a bit caustic.
“I don’t think I’m going to let this [be] going on for 24 years,” Walton snapped later on. “I don’t think it’s that type of a matter.”
He also directly called out Trump—at one point near the end of the discussion noting the president was, “[g]oing after the courts, too.”
Some amount of hay was made out of Walton’s comments—not so much for what they suggest but because of who made them.
”The judge is a George W. Bush appointee,” noted Dartmouth Political Science Professor Brendan Nyhan. “Not a drill.”
Judge Walton also appeared to pre-empathize with McCabe’s own complaints about the long, drawn-out and painstakingly slow progress made by government investigators and attorneys on the matter.
“I think to permit the investigation to go on infinitum really undercuts the purpose of the Freedom of Information Act since it is designed to provide a means by which the American public can know what its government is up to obviously, if the investigation is still in its investigative stage,” the judge noted. “And if it’s reasonable that it be ongoing for at least some period of time I obviously would consider maintaining that declaration under seal.”
Some of those FOIA’d documents include the courtroom transcript in which Walton upbraided prosecutors for taking their time—and for the untoward appearances caused by basically every aspect of that investigation.
In fact, some commentators have noted that Walton’s tussle with prosecutors last fall resulted in a deadline for a decision on whether or not to charge McCabe—tracing a more or less direct line from the judge’s consternation with Trump and Barr (and the allegedly slow-walked investigation) and the Friday decision by federal prosecutors to let McCabe skate on lying to the feds.
For those drawing inferences from the timing on McCabe, @joshgerstein points out that today was the deadline in a related FOIA lawsuit. Judge Reggie Walton unloaded on federal prosecutors in a previously sealed transcript. https://t.co/y5UEACQc6U https://t.co/y5UEACQc6U
— Blake News (@blakehounshell) February 14, 2020
Supporters of President Trump also noticed Walton’s unease with the 45th president and the appearance of impropriety—and drew similar conclusions about the perhaps not so coincidental turn of events.
Their response, however, was none too pleased (though Walton has been praised by conservatives in other contexts):
According to this, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton did not think McCabe should be charged because of Trump’s tweets
Trump’s tweets came *after* it was revealed McCabe lied to investigators
What an absolute joke the American justice system ishttps://t.co/I8fk3KPGSU
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) February 14, 2020
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[image via The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images]