Former US Attorney Preet Bharara was on ABC News on Sunday discussing his firing, his pre-firing interactions with Donald Trump, and the James Comey situation. Trump didn’t comment on Bharara, but Mark Corallo, the press spokesperson for Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, did.
And his remarks were revealing in terms of team Trump’s understanding of the presidency:
All US Attorneys work for and at the pleasure of POTUS. There is nothing abnormal with the executive speaking directly with his employees.— Mark Corallo (@MarkCorallo1) June 11, 2017
I'd Preet refused to accept the President's call, he deserved to be fired.— Mark Corallo (@MarkCorallo1) June 11, 2017
Typo aside, the issue here is that while it’s true that US attorneys are appointed by the president and can be fired by the president, they’re not the president’s “employees” and they don’t “work for” the president. Like the FBI director, the Cabinet, the generals and admirals who command the American military, and other key officeholders, they work for the American people and they swear an oath of allegiance to the Constitution.
Public officials work for the public
That public servants work for the public and not to serve the president is the basic difference between a free, law-governed society and a dictatorship. The FBI’s own website contains a useful essay written by FBI Academy legal instructor Jonathan Rudd about the significance of the oath of office.
“It is significant,” he writes, “that we take an oath to support and defend the Constitution and not an individual leader, ruler, office, or entity ... a government based on individuals — who are inconsistent, fallible, and often prone to error — too easily leads to tyranny on the one extreme or anarchy on the other.”
Some public servants have civil service protections. Others are political appointees who the president can fire at will. But regardless of their employment status, public officials have an obligation to the law and to the public interest, not an obligation to cater to the president’s whims, insecurities, or desire to see his associates evade legal accountability for their actions.
Trump has never looked out for anyone other than Trump
Trump has spent the vast majority of his life running family businesses where his only legal obligation is to make as much money for himself as possible — something that’s very different from a president’s role. He, too, is sworn to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” More broadly, his job is to make the lives of the American people better and to leave the country in better shape than when he started.
That’s why I’ve always thought Trump’s brief stint as the CEO of a publicly traded company is an interesting episode. Effective CEOs generally try to earn a financial return for their shareholders. Trump’s shareholders, by contrast, lost all their money. But Trump himself earned millions of dollars in salary and managed to relieve himself of personal debts while running the company into the ground.
Trump, in short, ran the public company as if it were for his private benefit. And his legal team seems to think it’s okay for him to run the American government in the same way.