Danielle Allen is a political theorist at Harvard University and a contributing columnist for The Post.
The president-elect is at work on identifying appointees for his new administration. Both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani have been floated as possibilities for the role of attorney general. Neither appointment would serve the work we most need at the Justice Department: a restoration of impartiality, fairness, nonpartisanship and thoroughgoing avoidance of conflicts and the appearance of conflict.
A Christie aide and an appointee have just been convicted in the “Bridgegate” scandal over the closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J. Christie, who was not himself indicted, claims he did not know about the lane closings, but three people contradicted him under oath: Bridget Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff when the closings occurred; Bill Baroni, a top Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; and David Wildstein, a political ally of the governor and also a senior official at the Port Authority at the time of the scandal. According to the New York Times, “It was impossible for even casual trial observers not to discern, from witness after witness, the evident viciousness and grubbiness of the governor and his administration.”
Kelly and Baroni were found guilty on all charges of fraud, conspiracy and depriving the residents of Fort Lee of their civil rights.
Wildstein, who pleaded guilty in 2015, testified that the purpose of the lane closings was to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for refusing to endorse Christie’s reelection bid. According to the Times, Wildstein testified that Christie laughed when told of Sokolich’s frustration over the traffic.
Earlier in the scandal, in an effort of self-protection, Christie commissioned what the Times called, “a friendly Bridgegate investigation by Randy Mastro, a former aide to Mr. Giuliani.”
The attorney general must embody impartiality, integrity and public service. Christie does not.
Then we have Giuliani, who boasted during the final days of the election that he had inside access to the FBI. Matt Zapotosky reviewed for The Post precisely what Giuliani said and concluded that “Giuliani is claiming to have known not of the development in the Clinton email case, but of frustration over the Clinton Foundation matter.” But the conversations reveal close, and possibly problematic, involvement with a bureau that appears to be politicized.
Also, during the campaign, to advance the cause of candidate Trump, Giuliani frequently offered prejudgments about criminal guilt on the part of Hillary Clinton. For instance, in a statement on the subject of the Clinton Foundation, Giuliani said:
“It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office; they sold access and specific actions for money. This makes a mockery of her promise to Congress and the president to keep the Clinton Foundation and the State Department entirely separate. In other words, they merged the two into the Clinton family racketeering enterprise.”
The legal views Giuliani expressed here were fully entangled with his political goals; no stable justice system can be built on such a starting point. The attorney general must avoid not only conflicts of interest but also all appearances of a conflict of interest. The attorney general must be equipped to embody and protect the impartiality of investigations and decisions to prosecute. On all these counts, Giuliani has already disqualified himself for this role.
In his acceptance speech, Trump said this:
“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.”
Here’s a piece of guidance then: We need to de-politicize the judicial branch to preserve our constitutional fabric, so don’t appoint Christie or Giuliani to the role of attorney general. Appoint a nonpartisan legal figure with a deep record for integrity and public service, who is squeaky clean with regard to conflicts and the appearance of conflict. We need such an appointment to de-politicize the Justice Department and the FBI. Only such an appointment will make it clear that the Justice Department will protect liberty and justice for all Americans. There could be no more important early signal for the president-elect to send.