President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the BOK Center, Saturday, June 20, 2020, in Tulsa, Okla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Speakers like Christine Todd Whitman, Bob Orr, and James Comey say Trump has undermined Justice Department, judiciary and science.

As the second night of the Republican National Convention brought divisive rhetoric and controversial speeches, conservatives at the Convention on Founding Principles called for a return to moderate values, respect for justice and science, and civility in politics. 

For the second night in a row, former FBI Director James Comey addressed the gathering of anti-Trump Republicans and independents, issuing a scathing appraisal of the current administration’s politicization of the justice department. 

“The rule of law depends on the even-handed administration of justice, and that means you get a fair shake whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or neither,” he said. “The chief prosecutor in this country, the attorney general of the United States, is not the president’s personal attorney.”

Comey was especially critical of Attorney General William Barr and the US Department of Justice’s involvement in the Roger Stone and Michael Flynn cases, its lack of transparency in the Russia probe, and the unwillingness to challenge the president when he disparages the department’s work.

“It’s sad what has happened to Bill Barr,” Comey said. “I wish he had the character not to be warped by Donald Trump. (Trump) managed to convince millions of Americans that the federal justice system doesn’t operate with integrity and doesn’t tell the truth. The Department of Justice was damaged by that.”

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De-politicizing the justice system figured prominently in former North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Orr’s speech, as well. Orr, who helped plan the convention along with national organizations such as Stand Up Republic and Principles First, spoke on the importance of appointing judges who will adhere to the ideal of being fair and impartial, regardless of political affiliation.

“The damaging perspective of judges and justices of being nothing more than political pawns in the war between partisan and ideological opponents must end,” he said. “It undermines the public’s confidence in the impartial decision-making of our courts.”

“No matter your politics, policies or passions, you should see it the same way. This isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican or a Libertarian or an Independent, this is about being an American.”

Former FBI Director James Comey

Orr cited the refusal of Senate Republicans to hold confirmation hearings for Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland as the beginning of a trend toward the politicization of the courts that has only ramped up under the Trump administration.

“This action by (Senator Mitch) McConnell was a flagrant abuse of power—there was no reason or basis to deny Garland a confirmation vote,” Orr said. “McConnell’s actions evidence the political motives grounded in a partisan mindset, hoping a Republican would become president after the 2016 election. They were banking on partisan loyalists to be appointed, judges and justices who could be counted on to rubber stamp the acts of the president and the Republican majority.”

Orr said that even though he has been a registered Republican for 45 years, he plans to vote for Joe Biden in November. He said breaking party was a difficult decision, but one he felt necessary to uphold the integrity of the judicial branch.

“We are faced with a sitting president intent on grabbing and consolidating any power he can,” Orr said. “Our congress has failed to rein in this despotic assertion of executive power and privilege. An independent judiciary devoid of partisanship and devoted to the constitutional rule of law stands as the last great strength against despotism.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman echoed the sentiments of Comey and Orr, calling for a return to separation between the executive and judicial branches.

“We need to ensure people have confidence in the rule of law,” she said. “It used to be common that very few people in the White House were allowed to be engaged with the justice department on cases. We need to get back to that.”

Whitman also spoke to the need for more bipartisan work in the House and Senate, more transparency in the president’s dealings with foreign powers, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, more of a reliance on and respect for science.

“Scientists have to be protected if they come up with issues and solutions that are uncomfortable,” she said. “You don’t take it out on the scientists.”

Former Assistant U.S. Surgeon General and consultant for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Public Health Penny Slade Sawyer also lamented the disregard of science in the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“America has failed to contain the worst health crisis in over 100 years, and in our failure we have experienced immense suffering, lost jobs, lost homes, lost lives,” she said.

Sawyer pointed to President Trump’s undermining of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recommendations, his refusal to regularly wear masks and his tendency to speak on the efficacy of unproven treatments as reckless and irresponsible.

“Many Americans admire and trust President Trump,” she said. “They follow his lead, betting their lives and livelihoods on his interpretation of science. His failure to grasp the science about this novel pathogen is frightening, and his decisions regarding COVID-19 are only one example of how inferior leadership harms us.”

Other speakers included former Florida congressman David Jolly, chess champion and human rights activist Garry Kasparov, and Fix the System co-founder Nilmini Rubin. Though they all brought different conservative perspectives, the speakers were united in one common goal—to encourage voters to put country before party and select the candidate that will restore integrity and transparency to the White House. 

“No matter your politics, policies or passions, you should see it the same way,” Comey said. “This isn’t about being a Democrat or a Republican or a Libertarian or an Independent, this is about being an American.”