Civics Lessons Needed

Bill Neinast

The starting gates are  up.  The newscasters have barked “They’re Off!” into their microphones.

Senator Chuck Schumer is first out of the gates.  Following close behind are Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff. 

The finish line a few weeks or months down the course is ultimate embarrassment.  The trophy will be recognition of the members of congress who know the least about his or her government.

The starting gun was Senator Chuck Schumer calling for the resignation of Attorney General Bill Barr for overruling the sentencing recommendations of the U.S. Attorneys in the trial of Roger Stone, a confidant of our President.

Do Schumer and his cronies really know that little about the organization of the federal government?  U.S. district attorneys are part of the Justice Department. Whether in Portland, Oregon, San Antonio, Portland, Maine, or any place in between, the U.S. attorneys are part of one team.  They are members of a huge law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., where the Attorney General is the senior partner.

The control from Washington is real.  I know that from personal experience.

For three years in the early 1970s I was Chief of the Army’s Civil Litigation Division in the Pentagon.  With a staff of about 30 military (JAGC) and civilian attorneys, we managed  through the Department of Justice the hundreds of civil suits against the Army.

When a suit was filed, the petition and motions would be filed with the U.S. Attorney who would forward them to the Department of Justice.  The documents were then forwarded to my office for investigation and drafting of replies. 

The packet of evidence and draft replies would be returned to Justice in time to be filed with the U.S. Attorney before the deadline.  Frequently the draft reply from my office would be forwarded to the U.S. Attorney without change and my attorney who prepared the draft would be included in the pleadings as “Of Counsel.”

In several complicated cases, an attorney from my office would appear with the U.S. Attorney in the trial of the case.

I had to keep my boss, The Judge Advocate General, in the loop only on cases I considered significant.  Among those was the case in which Dr. Spock of baby rearing fame sued a post commander who barred him from giving an anti-Vietnam war speech on post. 

That one went all the way to the Supreme Court where the Solicitor Gneral of the Justice Department won the case for the Army.  The court ruled that the commander was justified in his action because of the need to maintain military discipline on the post.

Another was the suit filed by Lieutenant Calley of the My Lai massacre infamy.  He sought to have his court-martial conviction overturned.  That was another victory in the Supreme Court for the Army.

Then there was the big one, The Berlin Democratic Club vs. The Secretary of the Army.  The discovery motions on that case were so burdensome that I had to form a separate branch with two attorneys and two intelligence officers to process it.  In addition, every Staff Judge Advocate in Germany was tasked to detail one of his lawyers to be on call from my office.

That is obviously one on which The Judge Advocate General was kept informed.  In addition, however, I had to prepare a periodic written report not to exceed one page for the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Army. 

The case was still in trial when I was transferred to Fort Hood, but I understand it was finally settled in some manner.

All of these cases were tried by the appropriate U.S. Attorney, but obviously under the assistance and control of the Department of Justice.

This, of course, involved civil matters.  Is there any doubt, however, that similar interest and control would be involved in criminal matters.  So what is the big deal about the senior partner, the Attorney General, overruling one of his subordinates in a criminal matter?

Some will say that is a big deal because in the case of Roger Stone. AG Barr was acting on the direction of our President.  So what?  The Attorney General is a member of the President’s cabinet and is expected to implement the President’s policies.

Moreover, the President could pardon Stone outright.  So why is it such a calamity if he thinks Stone should receive a sentence no longer than some convicted of more serious crimes?

So here’s the perspective.

Schumer, Pelosi, Schiff, and their  loyal followers in Congress should be ashamed of their lack of knowledge of how the government they control works.

Maybe it is time to amend the Constitution to provide for term limits and impeachment of members of Congress.



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