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Trump’s G.O.P. vs. the Rule of Law

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Whereas most people usually lump all law enforcement into the “Republican” bucket, it actually exists on a more nuanced political spectrum. Many county sheriffs, particularly in the South and West — like Mr. Arpaio, of Arizona, and David Clarke, of Wisconsin, both prominent Trump supporters with dubious dedication to the rule of law — and immigration-focused agencies like the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are far more reactionary than the mostly white-collar investigators from agencies like the F.B.I. and Secret Service and the trial attorneys and prosecutors of the Justice Department.

The Justice Department itself stands as a fundamentally Republican institution — but Republicans of a far different generation and ideology. The department’s founding, by the second Republican president, Ulysses S. Grant, came about as part of the way to realize the vision of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. Its original mission stemmed from the Reconstruction effort to combat the Ku Klux Klan and protect the rights of freed blacks in the South. As Ron Chernow outlines in his new biography of Grant, it worked: Using his new powers, Attorney General Amos Akerman devastated the Klan, sending hundreds to prison.

Similarly, for all the “Fox & Friends” talk of the F.B.I. as a hotbed of Clintonian intrigue, it has long been one of the most traditionally conservative institutions in American public life. The bureau, through much social upheaval over its 110-year history, has long seen its mission as helping to preserve a certain apple pie ideal. It has operated over the decades as a “morality police” that defends America’s institutional traditions and pursues those perceived as threats to the country’s social fabric, whether it was Harlem Renaissance authors in the 1920s and ’30s, Nazis in the 1940s, Communists in the 1950s, antiwar activists in the 1960s or “deadbeat dads” in the 1990s.

While the F.B.I. is vastly most tolerant and welcoming than J. Edgar Hoover’s original vision, it remains the lead American law enforcement agency targeting public corruption, so it has a particular focus — and a particular scorn — for elected leaders and government officials who don’t walk the straight and narrow and follow the rules.

It’s the prosecutors who have dug in and taken on Trumpism, pushing to ensure that he does not become America’s Viktor Orban, the Hungarian strongman slowly eating away at that country’s democratic institutions.

In April, Sally Yates — the acting attorney general fired by Mr.


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