Opinion: This is a lawless administration

(AP)

Six weeks ago, the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security completed its investigation into the agency’s disastrous handling of the first travel ban announced by the Trump administration.

However, in an extraordinary and unprecedented step, the Trump administration won’t let that report become public. In a letter to members of Congress this week, DHS Inspector General John Roth writes that he is “very disturbed by this development” and is unaware of any other inspector general, in any previous administration, who has been forbidden to release the results of his or her work.

According to Roth, the Trump administration is blocking release of the report by claiming that it covers the “deliberative process” of policy-making and implementation, which it wants to keep secret. The problem with that argument is that almost any report by an inspector general of any federal agency could be kept secret on that basis. After all, investigating policy-making and implementation is basically what the office of inspector general was created to do back in 1978.

As Roth points out in his letter to Congress, “invoking the privilege can mask discovery of decisions made on illegitimate considerations, or evidence of outright misconduct.” In this particular case, he says, his investigation discovered that DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection “appears to have violated two separate court orders” in carrying out the travel ban, but the administration refuses to allow him to go into any greater detail.

Think about that, because it cuts to the core of the American political system and the balance of power established by the Founders. If the Trump administration violated federal court orders, as the inspector general alleges, it has undercut the basic rule of law. If the administration is also refusing to allow the public and members of Congress to see an inspector general’s report, that undercuts the ability of Congress to perform oversight.

Basically, the Trump administration is claiming the right to do whatever it wants, while telling the judicial and legislative branches to go to hell.

That growing sense of executive impunity is also apparent in preparations for the 2020 census dictated by the Constitution. According to a startling story in Politico, the Trump administration wants to appoint Thomas Brunell, a college professor from Texas with no statistical or administrative experience, to head the census effort. That’s a stark contrast with previous occupants of that job, who have always been nonpartisan, career professional experts from within the Census Bureau.

So why Brunell?

Because he has worked as a Republican consultant and expert witness on gerrymandering efforts. Because in 2008, he published a book titled ““Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America,” in which he argued that gerrymandered districts are good for democracy. Because he has defended Republican redistricting in states such as North Carolina, where the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that congressional and legislative maps were drawn specifically to undermine black voting power.

No previous administration would be so shameless as to put such a person in such a politically sensitive position. After all, if voters can’t trust the work of the Census Bureau to be nonpartisan, you undercut basic faith in the system and politics becomes all-out war, in which raw unchecked power wielded without regard to fairness or law or the public good.

That is not who we have been until now. But clearly,  that is who the Trump administration wants us to become.