The Confounding Double Standard Behind Robert Hur’s Appointment As Special Counsel

INSIDE: Jack Smith ... Proud Boys ... George Santos
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert Hur delivers remarks during Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's farewell ceremony at the Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building May 09,... WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert Hur delivers remarks during Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's farewell ceremony at the Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building May 09, 2019 in Washington, DC. Rosenstein, who has worked for the federal government for more than 29 years, will be most remembered for overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2018 presidential election. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo.

Why The Double Standard?

The appointment of Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate the Biden classified documents matter is another example of the extreme imbalance between Democrats and Republicans in the politics of national security and law enforcement.

We’ve talked here before about the most glaring example of that imbalance: Every FBI director in history has been a Republican. Republican presidents nominate Republican FBI directors, and Democratic presidents nominate Republican FBI directors.

Now Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed as special counsel a man whose resume screams conservative legal movement: clerk to former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, worked as an assistant to Chris Wray in the George W. Bush Justice Department, served as an official in the Trump Justice Department before being appointed by Trump as Maryland’s U.S. attorney. The main man running around yesterday vouching for Hur was former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whom Hur served under as liaison to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 12: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (R) is joined by U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch at a news conference at the Justice Department to announce the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate the discovery of classified documents held by President Joe Biden at an office and his home on January 12, 2023 in Washington, DC. Garland announce that former U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert Hur was appointed as Special Counsel for the investigation. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This doesn’t mean Hur is necessarily a partisan hack or that he’s part of some anti-Biden conspiracy or that Democratic attorney generals must always appoint Democratic special counsel. It’s just fascinating that Democrats operate under such stringent constraints – imposed by themselves and by the political environment – while Republicans do not.

The consequences of the imbalance are more subtle and indirect than the narrow confines of this one investigation of Biden. For all the abuse and scorn that will be hurled at Hur as special counsel, it’s still a feather in the cap, a resume line, a boost into the national spotlight that is denied a passed-over Democratic prosecutor. It contributes to Republicans having a strong bench of leading legal stars and Democrats lacking one. It cedes the terms of the public debate over law and order and national security to Republicans and like-minded professionals.

Don’t misunderstand. I get the argument that there are potential advantages to having a special counsel with strong conservative credentials exonerate Biden (but that’s getting way ahead of ourselves at this point). I get the argument that having Hur taking on Biden might give some breathing room to Special Counsel Jack Smith in the Mar-a-Lago investigation (Smith, it should be noted, comes off as more of a legal monastic than as a Republican or a Democrat). But those arguments are a product of the same structural imbalance that leads to Democrats having to bend over backwards so far to demonstrate impartiality and fairness that they appoint Republicans.

It’s a systemic and long-running dynamic that is so baked in that even sophisticated observers take it for granted now. And Merrick Garland more than most seems to fully embrace and be prepared to perpetuate the double standard.

Who Is Robert Hur?

Take your pic of the quickie bios:

Semafor: Everything you need to know about Biden’s new special counsel

Bloomberg: Biden Special Counsel Robert Hur Once Oversaw Robert Mueller

Axios: Robert Hur tapped for special counsel in Biden classified documents probe

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Trump Running Scared?

The former president ruthlessly attacked Jack Smith over the past 24 hours.

Is Jack Smith Really Months From Charging Decisions?

In the big New York Times piece this week on Jack Smith, there’s this little nugget (emphasis mine):

Some investigators on Mr. Smith’s team believe that any initial charging decisions, expected as early as this summer, will involve the investigation into whether Mr. Trump illegally kept classified materials at his Florida estate and obstructed repeated efforts to retrieve them. That case involves a more discrete set of facts than the sprawling examination into Mr. Trump’s actions leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Most observers expected the charging decision on Mar-a-Lago to come before the decision on Jan. 6, so that’s not a surprise. But the timing of a Mar-a-Lago decision – no earlier than the summer – is a little surprising.

Proud Boys Trial Does Not Disappoint

After protracted jury selection and pre-trial wrangling, the seditious conspiracy trial finally got fully underway Thursday with opening statements – and things stayed weird:

Bannon Refuses To Talk To His Own Lawyers

The state criminal case against Steve Bannon in New York has been delayed while he ditches his current lawyers and looks for new ones. This is the state case alleging charity fraud in the We Build The Wall fiasco that Trump pardoned Bannon for.

The Hits Keep Coming For George Santos

TPM: George Santos is the Forrest Gump of the digital age

WaPo: George Santos was paid for work at company accused of Ponzi scheme later than previously known

Mother Jones: George Santos Struck a Curious Business Deal With a Veteran GOP Operative

Quote Of The Week

An Idaho state legislator spouting off in a committee hearing:

I’ve milked a few cows, spent most of my time walking behind lines of cows, so if you want some ideas on repro and the women’s health thing, I have some definite opinions.

The women’s health thing …

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Notable Replies

  1. This whole thing is becoming disquieting. Maybe there is a point here as to the Dems not having the legal bench that demands we appoint Republicans. I don’t know what to think anymore, but if what is stated in the first segment is true, the Dems have ceded a lot of ground.

    And for what?

  2. Smith, it should be noted, comes off as more of a legal monastic than as a Republican or a Democrat

    “Legal monastic”, very nice.

  3. Avatar for wvng wvng says:

    Rush Limbaugh perfected the art of working the refs to get conservatives favorable treatment. They now all understand that all they need to do is scream at high volume and in large numbers to move media and government in their favor, because who wants to be screamed at by thousands of people all day long? At this point many are simply conditioned to do what they want so the screaming doesn’t even start.

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