Trump’s Personal Touch, Comey’s Testimony, and the Independence of Law Enforcement
“It’s not personal; it’s just business,” is the saying, but business is almost always personal. Not only is a business a source of life supporting income for owners, investors, and employees, it is the product of hard work, long hours, and passion. Quite frankly, business requires a level of personal commitment that makes it very personal. For Donald Trump, whose intuition guides his decisions and views on public policies, business is personal in the most extreme use of the word. As a lifelong businessman, one can only expect President Donald Trump to approach the business of government with the same personal approach he took with his own his businesses, which can be both helpful and harmful.
Donald Trump’s personal approach, which is demonstrated by his strong emphasis on personal loyalty, means fostering personal relationships that blur the line between professional and personal. If someone can be hired or fired by Mr. Trump, he seems to expect nothing short of a relationship based on absolute trust in him and loyalty to him. As such, it is not surprising that the instinct of President Trump is to demand personal loyalty from public officials like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI directed James Comey, whose testimony to Congress raises concerns that the President acted inappropriately when meeting with him in private and discussing the investigation into former-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Unfortunately for Trump, government cannot work like his personal business did.
James Comey’s testimony definitively demonstrated one thing: top law enforcement officials walk a difficult path when it comes to dealing with the politicians who oversee their work. Not only must they maintain their independence for the sake of impartiality, they must submit to the authority of the President and Congress to ensure oversight of Law Enforcement. In taking a personal approach to dealing with the former FBI Director, President Trump created a very troubling situation that requires scrutiny in its self. Asking for a personal favor in dealing with an official investigation only intensified the need for scrutiny. What Mr. Trump demands from his subordinates raises questions about whether or not his expectations undermine public interests and public trust in the Presidency.
The primary role of government is to protect the People, their lives, and their liberties. This includes securing government from corruption and undue influence, whether from foreign powers like the Russian government or domestic special interests. The role of law enforcement in democracy is to protect the system from those who seek to use it for their own gains. Law enforcement, like the military, must submit to Executive and Legislative review to allow the elected representatives of the American People to ensure law enforcement works on behalf of the American People, but law enforcement is charged with the responsibility of ensuring elected officials and appointed public servants are also working on behalf of the American People.
It is the job of the Legislative Branch to craft the Laws, the Executive Branch to executive the Law, and law enforcement to enforce the Law. Where the Legislative Branch shapes the Law to properly reflect the collective interests of the American People, and Executive Branch executives the Law faithfully, the enforcement of the Law by law enforcement allows the system to remove corrupt elements. The system is far from perfect, which is why it can be terribly difficult to purge corrupt public officials and neutralize the harmful influence of special interest groups, but systematic safeguards do help encourage politicians to remain somewhat honest by empowering law enforcement to hold public officials accountable for their misconduct.
One safeguard is the practice of maintaining independence between law enforcement and the President. The President, as the big boss, has the authority to request the FBI Director’s presence at a private meeting, because the FBI director is his subordinate, but the President should not. Even if the President has the authority to require a private audience with a law enforcement official or fire said official, it should be for specific official reasons, never personal or political reasons. That said, under no circumstance does the President of the United States, who is an employee of the American People, have a right to violate the Law or make improper requests of follow public servants.
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