The Trump administration has engaged in a wide-ranging pattern of actions that violate laws, agency regulations, and ethical requirements, repeatedly putting its own interests before the public interest. Administration officials and their allies have lied to federal investigators,1 lied to Congress,2 and sought to obstruct federal investigations,3 among other illegal actions. These efforts constitute a direct and sustained attack on the rule of law that effectively creates two justice systems—one for the Trump administration and its allies and one for everyone else.
As part of its attack on the rule of law, the administration has worked to subvert the very institutions that might hold it accountable—including the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ),4 inspectors general,5 and Congress6—to eliminate even the possibility of oversight.
Whenever the Trump administration ends, there may be good-faith concerns that addressing the administration’s misconduct will be too divisive, set a bad precedent, or lead to political pushback from the administration’s supporters. But the lesson from the past four years is clear: The absence of accountability is treated as license to escalate abuses of power.
It is critical for leaders to make clear now that those who break the law will face accountability in the future. Ignoring the Trump administration’s attacks on the rule of law will only invite further attacks—and likely even more brazen and threatening ones. The Trump administration’s efforts to undermine U.S. democracy have greatly escalated—with the administration politicizing the deployment of federal law enforcement and casting doubt on the legitimacy of electoral processes—and are likely to grow in intensity unless it is clear that there will be accountability for wrongdoing. While Congress will have a role in seeking to prevent future abuses, there are immediate steps a future administration can take.