OXON HILL, Md.—The next conservative president must reform the Justice Department to restore constitutional government and deter rogue and politicized actions, conservatives said Friday at a Heritage Foundation event.
Heritage’s 2025 Presidential Transition Project, also known as Project 2025, says: “Anything other than a top-to-bottom overhaul will only further erode the trust of significant portions of the American people and, in turn, harm the very fabric that holds together our constitutional republic.”
During a panel discussion, Gene Hamilton, vice president and legal counsel for America First Legal, cited examples of politicization of the Justice Department under President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“I have seen the refusal of career employees to take the lawful action to defend the president’s lawful objectives and programs, to refuse to sign their names to cases because they disagree with the policy. That is such farce,” Hamilton, also a former counselor to Attorney General William Barr during the Trump administration, said during the panel at The Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Leadership Summit at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center just outside the nation’s capital.
Hamilton wrote the chapter on the Justice Department for “Mandate for Leadership 2025: The Conservative Promise,” the blueprint for the next conservative president assembled by Heritage and conservative allies.
“That is such a violation of some of the legal ethics that every lawyer learns in law school,” Hamilton said of his examples. “It used to be the case that people understood if you are a lawyer, your job is to zealously advocate for your client.”
He added: “If it it lawful, the president is the chief elected officer of our government. If you have a policy opposition, that’s your problem. Quit, go work somewhere else.”
The Project 2025 report covers numerous federal agencies with recommendations for the next president that include everything from improving federal health agencies to securing the southern border.
The long-scheduled Heritage panel looking at a politicized Justice Department was held shortly after a whistleblower from the Internal Revenue Service notified congressional committees and an inspector general about potential political interference in the investigation of the business dealings of Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, in China, Ukraine, and elsewhere.
“It seems to be an allegation that legitimate criminal investigations have been shut down at the highest levels,” said Mollie Hemingway, editor in chief of The Federalist.
“It’s the kind of thing that really demonstrates what we are talking about, how there is no rule of law at the Department of Justice,” Hemingway said. “That if you are an ally of the Left, you will be able to get away with pretty much anything. If you are an opponent of the Left, you will be prosecuted beyond belief for even the smallest misdemeanors.”
Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., a member of the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, noted that the panel is modeled after the Senate’s so-called Church committee from the 1970s that focused on intelligence agencies. Bishop said in that case, events “galvanized the process.”
“A senior supervisory agent at the IRS, in Treasury, has decided to use the whistleblower process, going through a lawyer, making contact with the appropriate committees in Congress, the [House] Ways and Means Committee and the Judiciary Committee, which I sit on,” Bishop said, adding:
All we know is that some sensitive matter has been the subject of political interference in order to see that the investigative process did not continue and conclude in the appropriate way. I’m going to look into that soon and I’m going to have an opportunity to ask. What people need to understand is that, while the weaponization subcommittee has had a number of hearings, we are exploring a variety of topics we can’t talk about yet. I do think that has the potential to be of extraordinary significance.
The Project 2025 report concludes that the Justice Department “has become a bloated bureaucracy with a critical core of personnel who are infatuated with the perpetuation of a radical liberal agenda upon the American people—and the defeat of political enemies.”
“As I look across the federal enterprise, it’s just too damn big, it’s too well funded. I think we need to go throught the appropriations process,” Bishop said during the panel discussion. “We need to defund woke and weaponized government.”
From a strict constitutional standpoint, Americans should shun the notion of independent bureaucracies, said Russ Vought, former director of the Office of Management and Budget and now president of The Center for Renewing America.
“The Department of Justice is not an independent agency. Anyone who brings that up in the White House, I want them out of the meeting,” Vought said, adding:
That is something you have to do on the outside. You can have the best personnel, you can have the best policy. At the paradigm level, if you haven’t adopted what I would call radical constitutionalism to get out of the precedents of the last 100 years and get back to what would Thomas Jefferson or James Madison do in this meeting. How would he approach the issue, not just from what the Constitution says, but how it was devised to have separation of powers and competition between the branches.
If we can’t have that conversation, we are not saving the country and the Department of Justice is the lead dog in that conversation. It’s why the attorney general is such a vital pick. It’s why the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel is such an important job. Everything we do has to go through the Office of Legal Counsel.
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