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senate Bill S. 1915

Should Contacts Between the White House & Justice Dept. About Investigations Be Logged?

Argument in favor

Presidential attempts to interfere with the Dept. of Justice’s (DOJ) independence are an all-too-common occurrence from both sides of the aisle. This bill would bring much-needed transparency that will ensure the White House doesn’t exert undue influence over ongoing or potential investigations.

jimK's Opinion
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07/05/2019
Hell yes. When the Whitehouse interjects itself into investigations of the Whitehouse, it is immoral, unethical and should be illegal. When the Whitehouse directs or intercedes in the lawful investigation of Whitehouse nominees for political or judicial appointments, it is immoral, unethical and should be illegal. Since we have an administration which has no regard for ethics, morals, laws or established protocols; the logging of such contacts is imperative to preserving lawful democratic processes.
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Sea's Opinion
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07/05/2019
You will be remembered as the administration of corruption Do something to lessen that
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DrCindyBean's Opinion
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07/05/2019
Support the security from political interference act - support Sheldon Whitehouse’s bill for transparency on communication about investigations.
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Argument opposed

Some scholars — as well as President Trump and certain members of his administration — contend that the president’s authority extends to all DOJ decisionmaking. If this is true, this bill would interfere with the chief executive’s proper exercise of presidential authority.

JTJ's Opinion
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07/05/2019
Democrats still spying on the Trump administration.
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Jim2423's Opinion
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07/05/2019
If this is such an important issue why are you just bringing up now. I am at a loss. No, if we did not need it then, we do not need it now.
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Gopin2018's Opinion
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07/05/2019
I’m firmly opposed to this bill by Democrats which would add to an already bloated, overreaching Congress into the daily affairs of the executive branch. DOJ is part of the executive branch; executive privilege would seem to apply here. This is nothing more than Trump derangement syndrome. #MAGA
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The house has not voted
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on the Judiciary
    IntroducedJune 20th, 2019

What is Senate Bill S. 1915?

This bill — the Security from Political Interference in Justice Act of 2019 — seeks 1) to establish the norm of the Dept. of Justice’s (DOJ) independence and 2) increase transparency and accountability in the relationship between the White House and the DOJ relative to ongoing or potential investigations. A breakdown of its various provisions can be found below. 

Specifically, this bill would:

  • Require both the White House and DOJ to log all communications between White House and DOJ officials and staff pertaining to specific cases or investigations that DOJ might undertake. The log would include: 1) the names of participants in the communication, 2) the topics of the communications, and 3) a statement describing the purpose and necessity of the communication.
  • Require that the logs be disclosed Congress, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) every six months. 
  • Direct OIG and OPR to review the logs and to notify Congress if any of the logged communications are inappropriate from a law enforcement perspective or raise concerns about improper political interference. 

Certain top-level contacts are exempt from disclosure to Congress, but such contacts would have to be logged, shared with OIG and OPR, and disclosed in response to a Congressional subpoena. Both the logging and disclosure requirements would remain in place irrespective of the White House and/or DOJ’s internal contacts policies.

Impact

Dept. of Justice (DOJ); White House; DOJ-White House communications; OIG; DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR); and Congress.

Cost of Senate Bill S. 1915

A CBO cost estimate is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthSen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a former U.S. Attorney, introduced this bill to increase transparency in the relationship between the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House and prevent political interference in law enforcement decisions by imposing reporting requirements for contacts pertaining to specific cases or investigations between the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) and White House: 

“Politics has no place in the Department of Justice’s enforcement of the law. Never before have we seen a president so heedless of the Department’s traditions and spirit, and so singularly focused on his own political and personal self-interest at the expense of justice.  This bill would protect the Department against the likes of Donald Trump by shining a much-needed light on the channels that have enabled political influence to flow into the Department.”

Original cosponsor Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), one of the contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, says

“The administration of justice should be blind, not driven by politics.  But the President’s attempts to derail the Mueller investigation, paired with Attorney General Barr’s refusal to give clear answers to Congress, have raised serious concerns about DOJ’s independence. The honor system isn’t enough anymore – we need a law.  I’m proud to work with Senators Whitehouse and Blumenthal to create transparency and give Congress important oversight tools to help restore the American people’s trust in the Department of Justice.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), sponsor of this bill’s House companion, adds

“Justice Brandeis famously observed that sunlight is the best disinfectant.  His words have been proven true time and time again. This bill would increase transparency surrounding communication between the White House and Department of Justice.  It is a critical piece of our commitment to fulfill our constitutional duty as a check and balance on the executive branch.”

A bipartisan coalition, including the Brennan Center and Republicans for the Rule of Law, wrote a coalition letter supporting this bill and raising the possibility of extending its disclosure requirement to more law enforcement agencies: 

“The Department of Justice’s stated mission is to ‘ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.’ This essential function, which goes to the heart of public trust in the federal government, can be satisfied only when the Department operates free of political interference. To help ensure that the nation’s chief law enforcement agency conducts its work transparently and without bias, we… [support the] Security from Political Interference in Justice Act of 2019. Presidents of both parties have been criticized strongly for violating the norm of DOJ independence in the post-Nixon era — such as when President Clinton improperly called for the death penalty for the Oklahoma City bombers. But this criticism has not stopped Presidents from inappropriately pressuring the agency. Congress should use its authority as a coequal branch of government to help stop such behavior in the future. If anything, the Senate should consider doing even more to check presidential abuse by extending the bill’s disclosure requirement to more law enforcement agencies, such as the Secret Service, and independent agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Election Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission. We encourage Senators to consider the possibility of including these agencies in the legislation.”

In a December 2017 New York Times interview, President Trump claimed that as president, he has the ultimate authority to direct to the DOJ as he sees fit. He said, “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.” Some of the president’s layers, along with some scholars, contend that the chief executive’s control over all prosecutorial decisions is absolute (and therefore, the president also can’t be guilty of obstruction).

This bill has two Democratic cosponsors and the support of the Brennan Center, Common Cause Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Niskanen Center, Project on Government Oversight, Protect Democracy, Public Citizen, Republicans for the Rule of Law, Stand Up Republic and Tech Freedom. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), has three Democratic cosponsors. Neither bill had seen committee action as of July 1, 2019.

Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to preventing American democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government, notes that the Senate Judiciary Committee considered nearly identical legislation (the Security from Political Interference in Justice Act of 2007, also sponsored by Sen. Whitehouse) in 2007 and reported it to the Senate on a bipartisan 14-2 vote.


Of NoteSen. Harris’ office notes, “Although both the Department and the White House have long maintained policies that define and prohibit... inappropriate contacts, these policies lack the force of law and can be violated without remedy.” Thus, presidential administrations have violated this norm without consequence. 

Presidents from both parties have been criticized for violating the norm of DOJ independence. Such cases include: President Nixon publicly declaring that Charles Manson should get the death penalty; President Clinton calling for the Oklahoma City bombers to face the death penalty in the investigaton’s early days; President Trump pressuring the DOJ to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger because of his dislike for Time Warner-owned CNN; and Trump’s repeated attempts to obstruct the DOJ’s investigation of contacts between his 2016 presidential campaign and the Kremlin.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / DNY59)

AKA

Security from Political Interference in Justice Act of 2019

Official Title

A bill to require the recording and reporting of communications between the Department of Justice and the White House relating to civil and criminal investigations, and for other purposes.

    Hell yes. When the Whitehouse interjects itself into investigations of the Whitehouse, it is immoral, unethical and should be illegal. When the Whitehouse directs or intercedes in the lawful investigation of Whitehouse nominees for political or judicial appointments, it is immoral, unethical and should be illegal. Since we have an administration which has no regard for ethics, morals, laws or established protocols; the logging of such contacts is imperative to preserving lawful democratic processes.
    Like (139)
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    Democrats still spying on the Trump administration.
    Like (28)
    Follow
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    You will be remembered as the administration of corruption Do something to lessen that
    Like (53)
    Follow
    Share
    Support the security from political interference act - support Sheldon Whitehouse’s bill for transparency on communication about investigations.
    Like (47)
    Follow
    Share
    Hell yeah!! Log every step they take; there are plenty of reasons.....
    Like (40)
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    There is supposed to be separation between the White House and justice. In a normal world and normal government
    Like (36)
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    But its not gonna happen under this corrupt administration. I think they stopped logging in visitors to the White House. Trump doesn't want the public to know who he's meeting with that owns him.
    Like (33)
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    This bill makes perfect sense to me... unless they have something to hide (how, then, would it make it easier for the administration to get away with theft and corruption). Hoping that my Republican Congress man agrees that there is nothing to hide (TBA).
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    We need to know everything.
    Like (25)
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    Absolutely, there must be 100% transparency, because they work for The People, and are accountable to us (like it or not).
    Like (23)
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    Transparency transparency transparency
    Like (21)
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    The government wants unlimited access to our phone records but doesn’t want its communications logged huh seems strange what don’t they want people to see
    Like (21)
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    There is an adage “not documented not done.” In the Trump Administration this is being used in a corrupt manner to avoid responsibility and hide corrupt and illegal actions and decisions. There is, therefore, all the more reason to document every conversation, every phone call and it’s content, save every email, text, and tweet, every letter and memo between the White House and the DOJ, and between the White House and every other department and branch within the government.
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    If this is such an important issue why are you just bringing up now. I am at a loss. No, if we did not need it then, we do not need it now.
    Like (19)
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    Y E S! THIS Justice Department, now under the Extremely Partisan AG Barr, needs to be closely monitored.
    Like (17)
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    Especially this admin
    Like (16)
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    Transparency!
    Like (16)
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    TRANSPARENCY!
    Like (15)
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    The close contact between trump and Barr is sickening, goes against all precedent, and should not be allowed.
    Like (15)
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    Most definitely, this democracy is supposed to be a democracy governed by the people. That means there needs to be transparency as to what the different branches do individually and in cooperation with each other.
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