In Robert Bolt’s brilliant 1966 saga “A Man For All Seasons” about the life of Sir Thomas More, a councilor to King Henry VIII who had to decide between his loyalty to the king and his loyalty to God, one of the most impressive scenes came during More’s trial for treason. He had refused to affirm Henry’s right to be the head of the Church, but he also steadfastly remained silent on the topic. His defense was “silence implies consent.”
Unable to shake or move him on this point, Henry’s man Cromwell (Leo McKern) brought in a former friend of Moore’s, Sir Richard Rich (a very young Richard Hurt) to give the following testimony:
All leaders expect some degree of loyalty from the men and women they appoint to office. That is not unreasonable. The question is the degree of loyalty they have a right to expect.
Obama got it right. U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the President, but their duty of loyalty is to the United States Constitution. This is the oath they take:
An individual, except the President, elected or appointed to an office of honor or profit in the civil service or uniformed services, shall take the following oath: “I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” This section does not affect other oaths required by law. 5 USC sec 3331.
Note that nowhere does the oath require obedience to the appointing authority.
Again the parallels between Trump and his appointees, and Henry II and Thomas Becket, are striking, especially in this passage:
“From whom, then,” countered Reginald, “do you hold your archbishopric?”
“My spiritual authority,” answered Thomas, “I hold from God and the lord pope, my temporalities and material possessions from the lord king.”
“Do you not recognize that you hold everything from the king?”
“By no means; we must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
As Paul Callan points out, Trump is personally involving himself in the selection of U.S. Attorneys, something his predecessors did not do.
There is time-honored process in which the Department of Justice and local senate offices vet and interview candidates for these important positions. The process requires presidential involvement only at its conclusion, when the President makes his selection. An ethical United States attorney owes loyalty only to the United States Constitution and the cause of justice. He or she should never be required to pledge personal loyalty to the President. A US attorney remains bound by the law, as are all others residing within the jurisdiction of The United States.
Trump does not seem to understand the rules. Any of the rules. Not only that, he does not seem interested in learning.
Who would work for such a man? Perhaps one who did not heed St. Thomas’ words of warning about dealing with Henry.
“If he senses that he can corrupt you by promises or frighten you by threats so that he can obtain something against your honor and some security for himself in the matter, from that moment your authority with him will utterly vanish, and you will become contemptible, a mockery and a laughingstock to him.”
Benjamin Wittes put it well, when discussing Trump’s July 19th, 2017 interview.
If Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not resign this morning, it will reflect nothing more or less than a lack of self respect on his part—a willingness to hold office even with the overt disdain of the President of the United States, at whose pleasure he serves, nakedly on the record
In that interview,
President Trump yesterday issued a stunning vote of no-confidence in basically everyone currently in a leadership position in the Justice Department, the FBI, or the special counsel’s office—in other words, not just some federal law enforcement, but all of it. The President’s rebuke comes in a lengthy interview with the New York Times yesterday, and it reaches everyone from the attorney general to staff attorneys hired by Robert Mueller—whose investigation he pointedly did not promise not to terminate. His complaint? They’re all, in different ways, not serving him. And serving him, he makes clear, is their real job.
At the end of the scene earlier, Sir Thomas More quoted the words of Jesus: “‘It profits a man nothing to give his whole soul for the whole world’, then he adds “but for Wales?”
Preet Bharara and Sally Yates had no problem answering that question. When Trump demanded they serve him and not their country, they refused. How many others will show the same courage? Will they be men and women for all seasons? Or will they give their souls for Wales?