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Joe Hayden is recognized throughout New Jersey as one of our state’s most competent criminal attorneys and an individual of unquestionable integrity and ethics. His column of last Friday, “Mueller Report Contains Devastating Evidence of Obstruction of Justice by Trump” is a definitive outstanding work of legal analysis outlining the high crimes of attempted obstruction of justice for which Donald Trump deserves impeachment by the House of Representatives and removal from office by the Senate.
There is nothing that I could or should attempt to add to Joe Hayden’s monumental work of legal scholarship. My purpose in this column is to simply provide historical and political context, based upon my vantage point from my experience in both government and academia.
Donald Trump was acting in accordance with his authoritarian character when he directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Special Counsel Bob Mueller.
The great eighteenth century British philosopher Edmund Burke described how essential is the preservation of societal norms and institutions to preserve public order and the rule of law. Trump, however, almost certainly does not know who Edmund Burke was, and he believes that he should have the power to impose his arbitrary discretion, free of any institutional constraints, such as the Constitution and the authority of the legislative and judicial branches of government.
Trump disregards completely the underlying truth of our system of government – that we have a government of laws and not of men. In that sense, Trump resembles the late Jersey City Mayor Frank Hague, who was famous for saying “I am the law.”
Fortunately for our nation, another New Jerseyan emerges from the Mueller Report as a true hero of democracy. He is Don McGahn, who refused to fire Bob Mueller and thus saved our nation from Trumpian autocracy.
Don was born in Atlantic City and attended local parochial schools. He is a member of the McGahn family of Atlantic City, a family of historic political importance. His Uncle Joseph was a former Democratic state senator, and his Uncle Patrick was a Democratic lawyer of enormous political influence. Don became a Republican during his college years.
There is a marked difference in the approaches taken to their respective appointive offices by Attorney General Bill Barr and Don McGahn. Barr did not approach his office as Attorney General of the entire United States but rather as a hired gun lawyer whose mission has been the political preservation and enhancement of Donald Trump, a la the late Roy Cohn. He is America’s worst Attorney General since Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell.
Due to Barr’s deliberate mischaracterization and distortion of Bob Mueller’s findings, we have another scandal, the scandal of Barr-gate, in which Bill Barr has largely destroyed public confidence in the office of Attorney General of the United States. By contrast, Don McGahn had the moral courage and integrity to refuse to surrender the moral authority of his office of White House Legal Counsel, which he rightfully saw as representing the office of the Presidency and its rightful legitimate authority, rather than defending the man, Donald Trump and his authoritarian, unconstitutional whims.
In recent days, Don McGahn has been unfairly compared to Nixon White House Counsel John Dean. John Dean committed egregious unlawful acts regarding the Watergate burglary, for which he made atonement and began to cooperate with the Watergate prosecutors. By contrast, Don McGahn never needed to make such atonement, since he never committed such unlawful acts and cooperated with Special Counsel Mueller’s office from the beginning of the probe.
New Jersey often suffers from a reputation of corruption due to criminal acts of various statewide and local officials of the past. Tonight, New Jersey can henceforth be most proud of the role its native son Don McGahn played to protect our nation against Donald Trump’s attempted usurpation of power. Tonight, Don McGahn, New Jersey native, is America’s hero of democracy.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.