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Biden should pick Elizabeth Warren — but for attorney general, not vice president

Given the lawlessness and corruption that seem to infect Barr's DOJ and Trump's administration, Biden's choice for attorney general could be his most important statement of 2020.
Elizabeth Warren, William Barr.
The contrast is clear.NBC News: AFP; CQ Roll Call, Inc.

Whether on the defensive or the offensive, presidential candidates rarely have an opportunity to take a breath and send a clear signal about how their administrations will govern. Currently, the media is salivating over who will be former Vice President Joe Biden's running mate. Will it be Sen. Kamala Harris of California? Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams? Or a dark-horse selection like Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada?

But in the current moment, Biden's VP pick may not be the most important announcement he can make.

But in the current moment, Biden's VP may not be the most important announcement he can make. Given the lawlessness, criminality and corruption that seem to have spread so virulently throughout this administration, perhaps the most important choice Biden can make right now is his pick for attorney general. And in this position, there is one name that clearly rises above the waters, a name that would reassure voters throughout the country that we are still a nation of laws and that would likely unify the unruly Democratic coalition, from Bernie Bros in Manhattan, New York to African Americans in Macon, Georgia, to suburban moms in Mesa, Arizona.

It is a name that should evoke praise, even from duty-bound conservative constitutionalists like the Never-Trumpers in the Lincoln Project or The Bulwark. And that person is:

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Last week was another brutal blow for the rule of law. Attorney General William Barr — after much public pressure from the president — indicated that the Justice Department's case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn should be dropped. To echo Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler, I'm curious to know how many federal prosecutors out there have dropped cases against people who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Please, wave your hands high — if you exist. Trump and the cronies in his administration have pushed justice to the very edge, and perhaps the only politician out there fearless enough to reach out a hand and pull it back from the brink is Warren.

When used as a force of good, there is nothing more powerful than the rule of law. Yes, Warren would be an excellent vice president pick. She would be a brilliant Treasury secretary — for which she is also eminently qualified. But for Warren to use her vast ecosystem of knowledge of the law to its full potential, she must be given the power of the law itself. As attorney general, Warren would finally be set free as the apex predator of the silk-stocking vampires who have leached our system for too long.

Announcing his decision to bring on Warren — assuming she'd accept the job — would send a clear message that Biden was serious about restoring the nobility of the Justice Department. This means not only doing away with the cronyism spreading throughout the Justice Department, but also using the office to proactively seek justice for the American people. This means going after Big Pharma for gouging prescription drug prices and protecting its profits with armies of lobbyists. The same goes for the CEOs and corporations that have misappropriated PPP loans from the stimulus bills meant to protect small businesses. Warren is steely and precise — and if I were a money laundering thief on Wall Street, there is absolutely nobody I would fear more than the Oklahoma-born lawmaker.

I am a starry-eyed admirer of Warren's life story, which informs her vision of the law as an instrument to help those struggling to make it, not for the successful who already have it made. Warren's working-class roots and degrees from commuter colleges and public institutions stand in direct contrast to the privileged Upper West Side upbringing of Barr.

Warren is steely and precise — and if I were a money laundering thief on Wall Street, there is absolutely nobody I would fear more than the Oklahoma-born lawmaker.

There is also an important political factor here. As Warren is inherently committed to the rule of law, I am inherently political — every fiber I have is committed to winning this election. By nominating Warren, Biden could perhaps soothe liberal naysayers who worry that his candidacy is too centrist and safe. Warren has eye-popping approval from the Democratic coalition, and her vow to eradicate corruption is highly popular, among even Republicans and independents.

Throughout her campaign, Warren repeated a consistent refrain: If Washington is to work again, the corruption that has become its lifeblood must be fully eradicated. When asked in an interview whether history would reflect kindly on his decision to drop Flynn's charges, Barr smugly quipped that "history is written by the winners." It was a rather fatuous (if I do say so myself) attempt to compare himself to Winston Churchill. But if Barr had done even a shred of research, he would have discovered that the sentence likely wasn't even coined by Churchill. What a savant of proverbs.

The U.S. Justice Department, and the career professionals within it, deserve so much more than the corrupt stooges they've been forced to serve under in the Trump era. And I am certain that, when the time comes, these patriots in the Justice Department will give Attorney General Warren all the testimony she needs to help clean house.