While the coronavirus rips across the country, largely due to Donald Trump’s ineptitude, Attorney General William Barr is quietly asking Congress for police powers that shred the Constitution.
Barr wants to give chief judges the power to hold people without trial indefinitely and suspend other constitutionally-protected rights during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Politico, which broke the story.
Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, told the website the measure is “terrifying.”
Hitler used the 1933 burning of the Reichstag building housing Germany’s parliament to solidify power and suppress opposition.
The fire broke out four weeks after Hitler was sworn in as Germany’s Chancellor. It led to passage of a decree nullifying key civil liberties and was used as the legal basis by pro-Nazi judges to jail anyone considered to be opponents of the Nazis regime.
Draft language in the Barr bill would give Trump, through the judiciary, the ability to attack his No. 1 nemesis, the free press, and other critics.
Trump in conjunction with Senate President Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) has now appointed 1 in 4 U.S. circuit court judges and filled two seats on the Supreme Court.
In most cases, the judges had to pass a political litmus test to ensure their conservative leanings. Trump has been able to make a large number of appointments because McConnell blocked Obama appointments during his term in office.
The Senate must approve judicial appointments.
The news media has been a frequent target of Trump’s attacks throughout his administration. Trump has gone so far to accuse the media of “treason” for reporting inconvenient truths about his own numerous lies and misstatements.
Chief judges of a district courts would be granted the power to indefinitely detained persons “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation,” according to draft language obtained by Politico.
The measure would apply to “any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil processes and proceedings.”
Under the U.S. Constitution, citizens currently enjoy the right of habeas corpus. The measure requires judges to hold hearings and grant pre-trial release as long as the individual did not pose an imminent threat to flee or commit other crimes.
The Department also asked Congress to suspend the statute of limitations on criminal investigations and civil proceedings during the emergency until a year after it ended.
“Not only would it be a violation of [habeas corpus], but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest.’ So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over,” said Reimer.
“I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.”
The DOJ is also asking Congress to pass a law saying that immigrants who test positive for COVID-19 cannot qualify as asylum seekers.
Some states are doing just the opposite. They have already begun releasing detained immigrants and non-violent prisoners because of the ability of densely populated jails to act as breeding grounds for the virus.
Even more troubling Trump on numerous occasions has attempted to persuade the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute his political enemies.
Trump’s effort to pressure then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate 2016 Democratic rival Hillary Clinton was detailed in the Mueller report. Sessions resisted.
But after replacing Sessions, Barr authorized an investigation of Clinton, the Clinton Foundation, the Uranium 1 conspiracy theory and her handling of emails as Secretary of State. She was later fully exonerated.
Trump also pressured the Justice Department to investigate former FBI Director James Comey, whom he fired, leading to Mueller’s appointment as special counsel.
In a move that led to his impeachment, Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine in an effort to elicit a public statement that the country was investigating his chief Democratic rival Joe Biden, through his son Hunter Biden.
The allegations of wrongdoing were groundless, and Trump was only saved from removal by a compliant Republic-led U.S. Senate.
The president has come under widespread criticism about his bungling of the nation’s response to the virus, delaying emergency action for some 22 days in a bid to protect his re-election chances.