It was 20 years ago – November 1998 – when the desperately ambitious Eliot Spitzer got elected Attorney General of New York. Spitzer proceeded to show the world how this office could be thoroughly politicized, using phony prosecutions of one financial institution after another to get his name in the papers on a daily basis. By 2007 Spitzer had moved on to the office of Governor (in which he lasted barely more than a year before seeing his career implode in a prostitution scandal). But the lessons that Spitzer taught about how to abuse the law enforcement powers of the AG’s office in the pursuit of personal ambition were not lost on his successors.
In the 2012 election, we got the even-more-desperately-ambitious (and darling of the progressive left) Eric Schneiderman as AG. Schneiderman took the politicization of the office to a level even far beyond that of Spitzer, which is saying a lot. For a review a small selection of Schneiderman’s improper activities, see my May 8, 2018 post, “Good Riddance To Eric Schneiderman.” By the way, that post was occasioned by Schneiderman’s own resignation from office, again over an issue of mistreatment of women. What is it about these guys? Could it be that bad guys are actually bad in more than one aspect of their lives?
And now the 2018 election has given us one Letitia James as our next AG, to assume office on January 1. Ms. James has most recently served as New York City “Public Advocate” – an elected office without observable responsibilities that principally serves to keep its holder in the public eye at taxpayer expense ready to step in to fill the next office when its occupant either implodes or is term-limited. (The prior Public Advocate was Bill de Blasio.)
What are the prospects for Ms. James? Needless to say, it only gets worse. On Tuesday she gave an interview to NBC News, of which a report appeared yesterday on the NBC site here. The big news: She’s going to investigate President Trump! Oh, and all members of his family as well. For what alleged crime, or what alleged violation of the law? Unfortunately, she can’t seem to name one. From the NBC summary:
"We will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well," James, a Democrat, told NBC News in her first extensive interview since she was elected last month.
James outlined some of the probes she intends to pursue with regard to the president, his businesses and his family members. They include:
· Any potential illegalities involving Trump's real estate holdings in New York, highlighting a New York Times investigation published in October into the president's finances.
· The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian official.
· Examine government subsidies Trump received, which were also the subject of Times investigative work.
· Whether he is in violation of the emoluments clause in the U.S. Constitution through his New York businesses.
· Continue to probe the Trump Foundation.
"We want to investigate anyone in his orbit who has, in fact, violated the law," said James, who was endorsed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
I mean, in the cases of Spitzer and Schneiderman, at least they pretended to be investigating some specific violation of the law when they went after a Merrill Lynch or a Citibank or an Exxon or a Deutsche Bank. Plenty of people, myself not the least among them, mocked Schneiderman for the pathetic excuse for a violation of law that he threw out as the supposed ground of his investigation of Exxon. (From my May 18 post: “The theory of the investigation has shifted several times, but centers around the proposition that Exxon somehow has deceived its shareholders about the impacts of climate change on the company.”) But at least he recognized, to the extent of paying some lip service, that his job was to investigate crimes, and not to pick political adversaries to take down. Today, with James, when it comes to Trump, even the lip service is gone.
Plenty of media outlets, reporting on the NBC interview, don’t seem to be troubled by this in the slightest. You might even say that they are egging James on. See for example, the Daily Beast here, or Newsweek here, or Vanity Fair here. To its slight credit, the LA Times is one outlet that recognizes at least a little bit of a problem here:
Trump rightly has been criticized for suggesting that the Department of Justice should prosecute “Crooked Hillary Clinton.” James’ comments in the NBC interview make it easy for critics to accuse her too of wanting to politicize justice.
I wonder how James would feel about having the FBI sicced on her, with an unlimited budget and without any specific crime in mind, just to see what they could find. Something tells me that she might view that as seriously unethical conduct, which it would be. Not to mention, rather indistinguishable from Stalinism.