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Explained: Is the US President also the country’s ‘chief law enforcement officer’?

Several American journalists and analysts have pointed out that the chief law enforcement officer of the US is actually the Attorney General, the head of the Department of Justice.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: February 20, 2020 7:50:42 am
US President Donald Trump, Trump chief law enforcement officer, william brar, express explained, US President Donald Trump (File)

President Donald Trump on Tuesday (February 18) declared himself to be the “chief law enforcement officer” of the United States, a claim that was immediately criticised for being false.

“I’m allowed to be totally involved,” Trump told reporters after controversially granting clemency to a number of his political allies, circumventing the usual Justice Department process. “I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country. But I’ve chosen not to be involved,” he said.

Chief law enforcement officer

Several American journalists and analysts have pointed out that the chief law enforcement officer of the US is actually the Attorney General, the head of the Department of Justice.

The website of the Justice Department says: “The Judiciary Act of 1789 created the Office of the Attorney General which evolved over the years into the head of the Department of Justice and chief law enforcement officer of the Federal Government…

“Since the 1870 Act that established the Department of Justice as an executive department of the government of the United States, the Attorney General has guided the world’s largest law office and the central agency for enforcement of federal laws.”

The President of the US

For the sake of argument, it can be said that the President, as the chief executive of the government, has overall authority over all its branches. In that sense, he would be as much in charge of law enforcement as of any other function of the government.

Article II Section 3 of the US Constitution describes sweeping powers for the President, saying in general terms, among other things, that “he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed…”.

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This, however, is a general provision, and does not make the President the country’s chief law enforcement officer, which is a very specific job description.

Tensions with the A-G

Attorney General William P Barr expressed frustration with Trump last week, telling ABC News that the President’s repeated attacks on the Justice Department made it “impossible for me to do my job”, and announcing that “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody”.

“Whether it’s Congress, newspaper editorial boards or the President, I’m going to do what I think is right,” Barr said. “I cannot do my job here at the [Justice] Department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

Barr’s statements came against the backdrop of Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department and a judge, after Department officials recommended a sentence of seven to nine years for Trump’s old associate Roger J Stone Jr, who was convicted of seven felonies in a bid to protect the President from a Congressional investigation.

Barr overruled the recommendation by the career lawyers, which led to four prosecutors withdrawing from the case, and threw the Department into turmoil.

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