What Would Donald Trump's Department Of Justice Look Like? Some Justice Department veterans said they worry about the possibility of political interference in law enforcement decisions if Trump wins the White House.
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What Would Donald Trump's Department Of Justice Look Like?

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What Would Donald Trump's Department Of Justice Look Like?

What Would Donald Trump's Department Of Justice Look Like?

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If Donald Trump is elected president, one of the most powerful levers he'll control is the Department of Justice. Some Department veterans say they're worried about the possibility that the real estate mogul will meddle in law enforcement operations. NPR's Carrie Johnson has more.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The Justice Department is a special place. Decisions to bring criminal charges are supposed to be insulated from politics.

BENJAMIN WITTES: The most awesome power that the federal government has over the day-to-day lives of people is not through the intelligence community, and it's not through the military. It's through the Department of Justice.

JOHNSON: Ben Wittes is a scholar at the Brookings Institution who closely follows the Justice Department.

WITTES: You can't possibly prosecute all the crimes in the world, right? So you have to decide which ones are you going to focus on and which ones are you going to ignore? And there's no way around that. There's no way to limit meaningfully the discretion of the department.

JOHNSON: The bottom line? A lot of justice is about judgment. And people in the White House haven't always respected those lines.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The president has fired the special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox, and he has sent FBI agents to the office of the special prosecution staff and to the attorney general and...

JOHNSON: President Nixon's move against the special prosecutor in October 1973 built momentum for his impeachment. A new attorney general imposed new limits on contacts between the White House and the Justice Department, limits that mostly stood intact for 30 years, until this announcement in 2008.

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KEITH OLBERMANN: Confirmation today that the Justice Department officials under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales illegally and repeatedly used a political litmus test in hiring prosecutors and judges.

JOHNSON: After that episode, a new attorney general revived those limits on ties between the president and the Justice Department. But remarks by nominee Donald Trump have some DOJ veterans worried about his respect for the integrity of the judicial process.

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DONALD TRUMP: I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump - a hater. He's a hater. His name is Gonzalo Curiel.

CARRIE CORDERO: I think his campaign has demonstrated that he has the intent, actually, to potentially improperly influence judicial or prosecutorial matters.

JOHNSON: Carrie Cordero worked as a career national security lawyer at Justice. She's bothered by Trump's attack on the judge hearing a civil fraud case about Trump University. And then, she says, there are remarkable statements by Trump associates calling for his political opponent to face criminal charges. The FBI and Justice Department filed no charges against Hillary Clinton, but that decision remains unpopular with many Republicans at last month's convention. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who's playing a big role in the Trump campaign, used his speech there to build a case against Clinton.

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CHRIS CHRISTIE: We cannot make the chief law enforcement officer of the United States someone who has risked America's secrets and lied to the American people about it day after day after day.

JOHNSON: Christie, a former federal prosecutor, asked the crowd to render a decision.

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CHRISTIE: What's your verdict - guilty or not guilty?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Guilty.

JOHNSON: But Republicans say it's awfully ironic to criticize Republicans like Christie and Trump when Democrats have their own problems separating politics from law enforcement. Mark Corallo worked as a spokesman at Justice in the George W. Bush years.

MARK CORALLO: I've just watched the current attorney general, Loretta Lynch, meet with former President Clinton on her plane and, in clear violation of the ethics rules, not recuse herself from an investigation immediately, not do the right thing.

JOHNSON: Corallo points out that just like Trump's business interests, the Clinton Family Foundation is a source of intense scrutiny. Ultimately, he says there's no chance any Justice Department will be completely free from politics. But he says he's confident people there can filter out their opinions and follow the rule of law. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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