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Sinking into Autocracy

William Barr official portrait
Atty. Gen. William Barr was urged to resign by 1,100 former Justice Department officials.

Some 1,100 former officials of the U.S. Justice Department have sent an open letter urging Attorney General William P. Barr to resign and warning that President Trump's use of that department as his own personal hit squad, enabled by Barr, threatens to lead the U.S. into autocracy.

"Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies," the former DOJ officials wrote.

The letter was organized by Project Democracy, a nonpartisan organization that has litigated against power grabs. Here's what Ian Bassin, who heads that organization, told Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post:

“A favorite tool of autocrats is using law enforcement as a weapon against opponents and a shield to protect their friends. Unless we want autocracy in America, we need to heed this alarm. The rest of DOJ must speak out loudly, clearly and publicly against this assault on the rule of law.”

The remarkable action by all of those former DOJ officials came after four career prosectors handling the case against Trump friend Roger Stone asked to withdraw from legal proceedings in that case after Barr intervened in favor of a penalty less severe than their recommendation of seven to nine years in prison. Stone is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering in the Robert S. Mueller Russia investigation.

One of the prosecutors, Jonathan Kravis, resigned as an assistant U.S. attorney, and another Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, said he was quitting his special assignment to the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office, while remaining as an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.

That followed Trump's tweet saying the recommendation was "horrible" and Barr's subsequent decision to propose a lighter penalty to the judge.

“Jonathan Kravis and Aaron Zelinsky resigning is both a courageous and principled move on their part for which they deserve national praise, but it should also be a red alarm for the rest of us that the view from inside DOJ is that Trump and Barr are taking us to a dangerous place.” Bassin told The Post.

That place is Barr's contention, and Trump's assertion, that he is above the law.

In their letter urging Barr to resign, the former DOJ officials declared:

"...We each proudly took an oath to support and defend our Constitution and faithfully execute the duties of our offices. The very first of these duties is to apply the law equally to all Americans. This obligation flows directly from the Constitution, and it is embedded in countless rules and laws governing the conduct of DOJ lawyers. The Justice Manual — the DOJ’s rulebook for its lawyers — states that “the rule of law depends on the evenhanded administration of justice”; that the Department’s legal decisions “must be impartial and insulated from political influence”; and that the Department’s prosecutorial powers, in particular, must be “exercised free from partisan consideration.”

That is not happening today as this impeached president, emboldened by his acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate, exacts retribution against those who testified against him and attempts to use the Justice Department to launch investigations of his political enemies.

Instead, we have an unleashed president without fear of legal consequences who is attempting to use the attorney general of the United States, the nation's chief law enforcement officer, as his personal hitman.

Welcome to the new America. Welcome to Dictator Donald Trump's America.

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