Former DOJ Lawyer “Haunted” by Work in Trump Administration
At the time, Erica Newland says she thought she was doing the right thing by remaining in her position at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. She felt she could use her legal skills to push back from within DOJ on the most egregious of Donald Trump’s policies.
In an op-ed in Monday’s New York Times, Newland now says she was wrong and is “haunted by what I did.” Newland joined the DOJ under President Barack Obama, stayed on after Trump’s election but felt she had to resign in November 2018.
“After the Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision upholding the third Muslim ban, I reviewed my own portfolio – which included matters targeting noncitizens, dismantling the Civil Service and camouflaging the president’s corruption – overcome with fear that I was doing more harm than good. By Thanksgiving of that year, I had left my job,” she writes.
“No matter how much any one of us pushed back from within, we did so as members of a professional class of government lawyers who enabled an assault on our democracy – an assault that nearly ended it,” Newland says.
Watching Trump’s legal challenges to the election results fail one after the other reframed her perspective. The attorney writes, “If, early on, the Justice Department lawyers charged with selling the administration’s lies had emptied the ranks the work of defending President Trump’s policies would have been left to the types of attorneys now representing his campaign. Lawyers like (Rudy) Giuliani would have had to defend the Muslim ban in court.
“Unlike the Trump Justice Department, the Trump campaign has relied on second-rate lawyers who lack the skills to maintain the president’s charade. Even judges appointed by Mr. Trump have refused to throw their lots in with lawyers who can’t master the basic mechanics of lawyering.”
She believes the country must learn from the debacle of the past four years.
“We owe our best efforts to restore our democracy and to share what we learned to help mobilize and enact reforms – to remind future government lawyers that when asked to undermine our democracy, the right course is to refuse and hold your peers to the same standard. To lead by example, and do everything in our power to ensure this never happens again.”