Alan Zendell, August 8, 2021
Civil servants at all levels of government have often been the target of unwarranted attacks from the Right. Conservative Republicans (the real ones, not the Trump supporters) believe in small government, while politicians on the left believe governments have important responsibilities that cannot be farmed out to the private sector. I don’t know whether Ronald Reagan was being literal or just making a campaign speech when he said government can’t solve problems, government is the problem, but I’m certain he was wrong.
As both a contractor and a civil servant I spent almost forty-five years working for and with people at all levels of government. Especially at the state and county levels, I have never met a more committed, overworked, and underappreciated work force. Not as much at the federal level because politics and overzealous budgeting cause the size of the federal workforce to oscillate like a yo-yo. Since the 1960s, when Presidents Kennedy and Johnson greatly increased the number of federal workers, Republicans and Democrats have alternately tried to reduce and restore their numbers, for no substantive reason but out of political ideology.
There’s a reason government employment is call Civil Service. The vast majority of people who choose that career path take the word “service” seriously. While it’s true that the government provides excellent health care and retirement benefits, it’s also true that some of our brightest and most talented people choose service over jobs that pay far more than government salaries. And in addition to their talent and hard work, they possess a commodity that seemed to be going out of style since Trump entered the political scene: INTEGRITY!
Americans should thank whatever deity or force they believe in that the U. S. Department of Justice is populated almost entirely by people of that caliber. Political views and personal values aside, they have a special commitment to their jobs, and unfailing patriotism that may ultimately be what saves our democracy. They are people who place principle over politics, who are willing to resign in protest when ordered to act in a manner they consider illegal or unethical, and who are willing to fight internally to assure rules and laws are obeyed despite professional and personal threats.
We saw clear evidence of that in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The Committee is investigating whether former President Trump illegally attempted to overturn the 2020 election in violation of the Constitution in the ten weeks after the election. William Barr, who often appeared to cross the line between defending the Constitution and allowing politics to corrupt his Department, resigned as Attorney General on December 20, 2020, a month before President Elect Biden was to be inaugurated. Even Barr, whose actions aroused anger from both Democrats and his own senior professional staff, finally reached a point where he could no longer stomach having his personal legacy trashed by Trump.
Trump appointed Jeffrey Rosen to replace Barr, and according to testimony by Rosen and his Deputy, Richard Donoghue, spent the ensuing weeks pressuring the Justice Department to declare that the election was invalidated by fraud, despite all objective evidence to the contrary. They implicated another DOJ attorney, Jeffrey Clark as being at the center of a plot to declare the election void and turn it over to state legislatures which would have given Trump a victory along strict party lines in clear violation of the will of the people, who gave Biden a victory in the Electoral College and a margin of nearly eight million popular votes. It’s not clear whether Clark was acting on his own to support Trump or the former president was directing him, but Senate testimony made it clear that they were working together.
As first reported by the New York Times, three Senators, Richard Blumenthal (D, CT), Thom Tillis (R, NC) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI) sat through eleven hours of testimony by Rosen and Donoghue, with several other (bipartisan) Senators participating. There was little disagreement over the actions of Jeffrey Clark. What remained in question was whether Clark had violated federal law or simply behaved unethically in violation of his oath to defend the Constitution. The DOJ Inspector General will make that determination.
Senator Blumenthal characterized the Committee hearing as “profound and important,” and later told CNN that he “was struck by how close the country came to total catastrophe” after listening to Rosen’s entire closed-door testimony. What he meant was that we all owe a debt of gratitude to the committed senior officials in our Justice Department for averting what would have been at a minimum, a serious Constitutional Crisis, and at worst the undermining of it’s most critical provisions, the fair election of a president.
The guardrails held, this time. It is scary however to think that we actually had a President who attempted a coup and many Republican Congressmen went along with it. Thank God for civil servants with integrity.