RELEASE: A Blueprint To Restore Integrity and Independence at the U.S. Justice Department

Washington, D.C. — A new report published today by the Center for American Progress provides a blueprint to restore the integrity and independence of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), after being compromised to help political friends and harm political rivals during the last 3 1/2 years. Those actions have undermined public confidence in the DOJ, demoralized the career workforce, and caused thousands of former DOJ officials—those who have served in Republican and Democratic administrations alike—to speak out, sound the alarm, and call for change.

Over the past year, CAP consulted with a number of former DOJ officials—both career staff and high-ranking political appointees—on the damage being caused to the DOJ. CAP’s report identifies key recommendations developed during this process about what the next attorney general should do on day one—without the need for action by Congress—to strengthen the norms that have long informed the DOJ’s work, improve public confidence, and rebuild morale in the workforce.

Recommendations include:

  • Codify stronger limits on contacts and communications with the White House that clearly articulate what kinds of communications are appropriate and prohibited.
  • Adopt a clear, consolidated policy regarding election-year activity. While the DOJ has an obligation to prosecute election-related crimes, it must do so in a fair, impartial, nonpartisan way.
  • Establish smarter charging and sentencing policies free from politicization. The DOJ should encourage individualized assessments of the appropriate charges in a given case, but in no circumstance should the defendant’s relationship with the president or other elected official have any impact on any criminal matter.
  • Take a whole-of-government approach to civil rights. Protecting and promoting civil rights is the responsibility of every component of the federal government, and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division should be empowered to lead that effort.
  • Adopt better goals and metrics that focus on outcomes, not outputs.
  • Respect the professionalism of career staff and vigorously defend career employees against unfair attacks, whether from the president or anyone else.

“The integrity and independence of the DOJ is crucial for our democracy. The recommendations in this report from experienced leaders provide a roadmap for the next attorney general to begin the arduous but essential work of rebuilding the institution,” said Ed Chung, vice president for Criminal Justice Reform at the CAP, former special counsel in the DOJ Civil Rights Divisions, former special counsel in the Office of Justice Programs, and editor of the report.

“The rule of law depends on an impartial and apolitical DOJ. That’s the type of DOJ we need. This thoughtful report from the Center for American Progress is designed to help ensure that’s the DOJ we have,” said Sally Yates, former deputy attorney general under the Obama administration.

“The criminal enforcement work of the DOJ must never be politicized; unprincipled leadership, however, has recently taken this crucial institution down a perilous path,” said Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “This blueprint to restore the policies and norms that have long governed the DOJ’s vital work—under presidents and attorneys general of both parties—is necessary to ensure that the rule of law is preserved and protected.”

“One of the most urgent matters for the next administration is to restore public confidence in the DOJ and the rule of law in this country,” said Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. “This blueprint suggests ways to harden some of the norms that have been trampled upon by the current administration so that the American people can regain confidence in our system of justice.”

Read the report: “Restoring Integrity and Independence at the U.S. Justice Department” by CAP’s Criminal Justice team

Related resources:

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at .