After the tumultuous discharge of one of America’s two highest legal authorities this week, I am now going to say a few things about our new administration and their treatment of federal employees. I feel it incumbent to speak out now, not merely because I spent almost 20 years at the venerated US Department of Justice, but because it is about time that people everywhere understand what agencies, such as DOJ and the CIA and the myriad of other agencies do each and every day to keep Americans safe, whether at home or abroad.
Firstly, people need to understand that there are those in America who do not respect or believe that the federal government should control their lives and livelihoods. The reason people think this way is ostensibly that they do not want the government to tell them how to live.
Their actual reason is somewhat murkier. They do not want the government to regulate their behavior, whether it means dumping hazardous waste materials in their backyards or making them pay taxes on undeclared income that helps pay to regulate things that keep everyone safe, whether they are flying from Cleveland to Albuquerque or from New York to Tel Aviv. They believe, incorrectly, that the government cares what they do. The truth is that the government does not care what people do, as long as they comply with the laws of the country or their local jurisdiction. Trust me, the federal government has better things to do with its resources than check up on its citizens engaged in lawful behavior.
I must confess that I have never seen government employees treated as badly as Donald Trump just treated the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, outside of the Watergate affair. The lack of respect for James Comey is offensive on so many levels, it is apparent that even suspected criminals under indictment by the FBI are treated with more respect. I have seen arrests of individuals by the Bureau, so I am not making this stuff up. James Comey was in Los Angeles giving a speech to prospective agents when the news of his firing flashed behind him on TV monitors. When he realized what had just transpired, he thought someone was playing a joke on him. This is no way to treat someone who has given 30 years of his life towards protecting Americans.
Similarly, the former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, was given a preview of coming Comey attractions when Trump fired her for simply doing her job. Although I never personally met Ms. Yates or Mr. Comey, their reputations were known to me as their signatures were on many of the materials I worked with on a daily basis. In the case of Ms. Yates, she was known for her high standards and her hard work ethic over a very distinguished career of almost 30 years.
Likewise, Preet Bharara, former US attorney for the Southern District of New York, was shown the door by Trump. If you want to know about the quality of the work of US attorneys, all you have to do is look at their conviction rates. While it is true that United States attorneys all serve at the pleasure of the sitting president, however, only President Donald Trump has rewarded years of work excellence by firing individuals. This is not the message any administration should be giving to prospective employees at any level of the US government.
Since the time of Teddy Roosevelt, American government employees have had to deal with millions of bosses making their lives and jobs more difficult, but they persevered. Under various Republican administrations, the lives of federal employees have suffered. They have had their work questioned, their benefits reduced and their salaries never in keeping with the private sector. They do not work in the government for the money. They work in the government to make everyone’s life better and safer. They not only deserve the respect of all sitting presidents and their administrations, they deserve the right to work unfettered and un-insulted and appreciated more than being summarily shown the door after three decades of hard work as if they had committed a crime.
Only time will tell if James Comey did anything to justify his unceremonious firing yesterday; but even if he had done something thoroughly egregious, he still should have been shown more respect than the presidential farewell from government service gave him. If Donald Trump thinks he can fire his way out of legal trouble, then he seriously underestimates the federal employees who remain in their jobs while their bosses are shown the door.