Readers of this space know I often bemoan that few people in Washington resign on principle any more. Like the anonymous op-ed writer for the New York Times, they convince themselves they are doing good by remaining at their post while in reality they are simply giving the most corrupt and unfit president in history the cover of legitimacy and the facade of competence. Last week we saw how principled public servants are supposed to behave.

Jonathan Kravis, Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, Adam C. Jed and Michael J. Marando quit rather than carry out a political order to change the sentencing recommendation for the president’s crony Roger Stone. They upheld their oaths of office, which are to the Constitution and not to their boss, a president or a party. They behaved as ethical attorneys. They refused to knuckle under and, in withdrawing from the case (in Kravis’s case, resigning from the Justice Department entirely), they called attention to the corruption eating away at the rule of law and ravaging the reputation of the Justice Department.

“The line attorneys who resigned … earned their name as public servants — because they stood on the front lines and honored their oath,” wrote Lisa Monaco, who was the White House homeland security and counterterrorism adviser from 2013 to 2017 after serving at the Justice Department for 15 years. “But they shouldn’t stand alone as the conscience of the department. As someone who has served as a career federal prosecutor and in politically appointed posts — I believe political appointees should have the backs of the career professionals and they have their very jobs because they are the ones who are politically accountable. So, while it is a sad day when the career assistant U.S. attorneys stand alone on the line, it is also a sign of the Department’s strength — under significant strain though it may be.”

While Attorney General William P. Barr concocted some cock-and-bull story to make it seem like he had refused to facilitate Trump’s abuse of power, these four prosecutors declined to try pulling the wool over the judge’s eyes. They knew this was an effort to pacify the president who sees the Justice Department as an instrument of his thuggery and implementers of his mob mentality.

While the Justice Department finally let on that it would not prosecute former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, another Trump target, Barr nevertheless called in prosecutors “to review the handling of the criminal case against former Trump national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and other sensitive national security and public corruption prosecutions in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington,” The Post reported. “That has fueled concerns among career prosecutors and others that the department’s political leadership is making a push to exert more control at a key point in sensitive, high-profile cases.”

Perhaps inspired by the four prosecutors who withdrew rather than violate their professional obligations and oaths of office, Barr’s designees for the Flynn case will act in accordance with their oaths and not countermand the decisions of career prosecutors.

There is talk that the four prosecutors could testify before Congress. More productive and less likely to risk their careers and personal safety (when Trump and his thugs inevitably attack them) would be for them to provide documentation regarding these events. Ultimately, it is up to Congress to conduct oversight and, if warranted, pursue Barr’s removal.

For now, the four prosecutors debunk the notion that executive branch employees are helpless pawns of a corrupt president. They have agency, and more important, moral and professional responsibilities to uphold. In showing their peers, their superiors and the American people that one can behave honorably — that one must behave honorably — in the face of authoritarian abuse of power, we can say well done, gentlemen.

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