In an otherwise unremarkable performance during the first Republican presidential debate, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis crowed about using his executive authority to remove from office two Democratic district attorneys in his state. It seemed a bit ironic, if not hypocritical, coming from someone who regularly complains about the increasing politicization of justice in the United States.
During Wednesday’s debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, DeSantis stuck to the usual Republican talking point about the “weaponization” of the Biden Justice Department. He also boasted: “There’s one guy in this entire country that’s ever done anything about that — me, when we had two of these district attorneys in Florida … who said they wouldn’t do their job. I removed them from their posts; they are gone.”
Not surprisingly, DeSantis did not seem troubled by either the irony or the hypocrisy of his boast.
And he is not the only MAGA Republican to bemoan what they see as political influence in the justice system while doing everything they can to bring political pressure to bear on prosecutors whose decisions they don’t like.
Take the Florida Governor, who suspended Orlando State Attorney Monique Worrell, a Democrat, on August 8. Worrell is, as NBC reports, “the only Black woman serving as a local prosecutor in Florida.”
DeSantis issued an executive order detailing her alleged failings. He claimed that “during Worrell’s tenure in office, the administration of criminal justice in the Ninth Circuit has been so clearly and fundamentally derelict as to constitute both neglect of duty and incompetence.”
DeSantis argued that Worrell “has authorized or allowed practices or policies that have systematically permitted violent offenders, drug traffickers, serious-juvenile offenders, and pedophiles to evade incarceration, when otherwise warranted under Florida law…. Worrell’s practices or policies contravene the policies of the Florida Legislature as expressed in statute and undermine the safety, security, and welfare of the communities that Worrell has been elected to serve.”
A news release accompanying the executive order accused her of “neglecting her duty to faithfully prosecute crime in her jurisdiction. Worrell’s practices and policies have too often allowed violent criminals to escape the full consequences of their criminal conduct, thereby endangering the innocent civilians of Orange and Osceola counties.”
It quoted DeSantis’s high-minded rhetoric: “It is my duty as Governor to ensure that the laws enacted by our duly elected Legislature are followed. The people of Central Florida deserve to have a State Attorney who will seek justice in accordance with the law instead of allowing violent criminals to roam the streets and find new victims.”
Of course, in none of this did DeSantis mention that he suspended Worrell in a transparent attempt to re-direct news coverage away from the chaos that has engulfed his multiply rebooted presidential campaign.
Worrell responded to her suspension by likening DeSantis to “weak dictator” and warning that the United States is “in danger of losing our democracy.”
Worrell added that “This man is running for president and the country should be afraid. The country should be afraid of an individual who removes duly elected officials because they are not politically aligned with him…. Our country should be afraid of the impact that this could have across this country if he were to be elected.”
As DeSantis noted during the Milwaukee debate, he had suspended another prosecutor almost a year ago. Then he removed Tampa area prosecutor Andrew Warren after Warren said he would not bring charges under Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban.
The governor argued that Warren’s “blanket refusal” to enforce that law amounted to a “functional veto” of a valid state law rather than a legitimate exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”
But a federal district court judge who heard a case Warren brought challenging his removal, disagreed. Judge Robert Hinke saw through DeSantis’s smokescreen and said that the evidence showed that the governor was punishing the prosecutor for his progressive political views and for speaking out publicly against a law that DeSantis supported.
While acknowledging that he did not have jurisdiction over what was purely a matter of state law, Hinkle explained that “The controlling motivations for the suspension were the interest in bringing down a reform prosecutor—a prosecutor whose performance did not match the Governor’s law-and-order agenda—and the political benefit that would result.” He pointed to “Mr. Warren’s association with the Democratic Party and alleged association with Mr. Soros as motivating factors in the decision.”
Not to be outdone in the doubletalk department, the day after the Republican presidential debate, Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, a staunch Trump ally, and opponent of the alleged weaponization of justice by the Biden administration, announced that he is using his position as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee to investigate Georgia’s Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. It is no coincidence that this investigation comes on the heels of Willis’s indictment of former president Trump.
In a letter to Willis, Jordan said that he wants to know “whether the Fulton County District Attorney’s office coordinated with federal officials, including DOJ Special Counsel Jack Smith, for its politicized indictment of former President Donald Trump, a former White House Chief of Staff, and a former U.S. DOJ official.”
Speaking about the Georgia prosecutor, Jordan suggested that “the circumstances surrounding her actions raise serious concerns about whether such actions are politically motivated.”
He went into considerable detail as he impugned Willis’s motivation. But he was silent about the factual basis of the charges against Trump.
“It is noteworthy,” Jordan wrote, “that just four days before this indictment, you launched a new campaign fundraising website that highlighted your investigation into President Trump.” Additionally, Jordan offered a long list of what-about-isms. He claimed that “the forewoman of the special grand jury you convened to investigate President Trump earlier this year bragged during an unusual media tour about her excitement at the prospect of subpoenaing President Trump and getting to swear him in….”
“A Fulton County court,” Jordan continued, “has disqualified you from targeting current Georgia Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones as part of your probe on the grounds that you actively supported and held fundraising events for his Democratic opponent. And unlike officials in other jurisdictions, Fulton County officials ‘have suggested [they] will process [the former President] as [a] typical criminal defendant, requiring mug shots and possibly even cash bond.’”
What the Supreme Court said more than sixty-five years ago about congressional investigations applies to what Jordan is doing now. Investigations, the Court noted, “conducted solely for the personal aggrandizement of the investigators or to ‘punish’ those investigated are indefensible.”
And this is not Jordan’s first “indefensible” effort to target a prosecutor who tries to hold Trump to account. Earlier this year, he and a few other House Republican committee chairs launched a well-publicized but short-lived probe of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s investigation into Trump’s alleged hush money “scheme” to boost his electoral chances in 2016.
Like DeSantis, Jordan is untroubled by the irony, and shame, of using a congressional committee to protect former president Trump and punish those who are prosecuting the leading Republican presidential candidate. Both DeSantis and Jordan are acting in unprecedented ways that threaten the independence of prosecutors.
For all their complaints about the weaponization of justice, DeSantis and Jordan are offering a frightening preview of what will happen if the voters return Donald Trump and his cronies to the White House in November 2024 or, if lightning strikes and DeSantis emerges victorious. Americans would be well advised to watch what these people do and see the danger they pose to the rule of law itself. We will need to use our votes to prevent that threat from being realized.