Since early 2017, I have fielded frequent questions from reporters regarding my 18 years as an attorney at the Department of Justice. I have shared my view with journalists that, despite the wildfires scorching democracy at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, I remain confident that Justice will prevail. I say this, with faith, even as the President attempts to light a fire under his Attorney General, Chris Wray, Devin Nunes, and the Republican Party to dismiss those who question and investigate him.
I won’t deny that every day this year, there have been lawyers in the Justice Department working to undo the protections that the Obama Administration provided to the members of the LGBT community. Or that we are witnessing a significant change of heart with respect to the message of deference provided to police officers who engage in racial profiling. I can’t pretend that the window into providing clemency to low-level, non-violent incarcerated drug crime defendants hasn’t closed. I cringe to imagine that most women walking around the fourth and fifth floors of power in the Main Justice building are serving as administrative assistants these days, rather than Chiefs of Staff or Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees. Even the burly big brother of the Justice Department — the FBI — has had its competence questioned and its reputation sullied.
Like most Americans, I watch all this from the outside. But unlike many of you, 18 years at Justice — spanning two Democratic and one Republican administration — showed me the resilience and strength of Justice.
First and foremost, crime-fighting and national security protections are always in style at DOJ, no matter which way the wind blows. Democrat-led Justice Departments indict Democrats (just ask Senator Bob Menendez), and Republican-led Justice Departments prosecute Republicans (such as the late Senator Ted Stevens). Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ pledge to combat violent crime is not all that different than the violent crime fighting during the Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch Justice Departments.
Following at a close second, leadership is temporary. The conservatives who temporarily inhabited the Civil Rights Division during the George W. Bush years, inspired energized and hungry Civil Rights attorneys in 2009 who were ready to hold police departments accountable, protect the rights of the disabled, fight for voting rights, and expand the rights of the LGBT community.
Third, many in leadership are amateurs, but the career attorneys are not. Former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez tried to pull a fast one regarding surveillance on a hospital-ridden former Attorney General John Ashcroft, but former Deputy Attorney General and longtime prosecutor James Comey — along with then FBI Director Robert Mueller — stepped in to protect the Department. For every idiotic step that Sessions wants to take, there will be a room full of career attorneys pushing back. Including long-time career prosecutor Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as well as his colleague across the hall, Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools.
You see, my own 18 years at Justice allow me to share some inside-the-Beltway intel. Career attorneys’ and law enforcement officers’ jobs do not stop because of who is in the White House or the Attorney General’s office. Their jobs do not even become impossible to perform. They may have less people working on those issues, or they may not pursue a case they would have in a different administration, or they may change a word or a delete a paragraph to provide less protection of individual rights than before.
Every day, the Department of Justice’s more than 100,000 employees around the country — whose work includes law enforcement, community outreach, prosecution of computer hackers and child pornographers, grant-approval, counseling, protecting the environment, protecting victims and witnesses, training to help stem the opioid crisis, ensuring access to disabled students and employees — have their heads down working hard to protect you, me, and our country. Every day, they persist.
Some unfamiliar with the real D.C. may call them the Deep State. But I know them personally, and I call them Patriots.