Iowa's Attorney General Brenna Bird disrespects America’s legal system with comments at Trump trial

by Ed Tibbetts, Iowa Capital Dispatch
May 16, 2024

First, the good news: Most Americans trust juries.

Now, the bad news: Iowa’s attorney general apparently isn’t one of them.

Brenna Bird joined a bunch of other Republican politicians at the New York trial of Donald Trump this week and immediately pronounced it a farce. “Politics has no place in a court of law,” she said.

Unfortunately, Brenna Bird fails this standard. Iowa’s attorney general, who formerly worked for Rep. Steve King, has been aggressively making her name in GOP circles since being narrowly elected in 2022, repeatedly suing the Biden administration. Hardly a week goes by when her public relations people aren’t heralding a new lawsuit. Donald Trump has even practically anointed her a future governor.

On Monday, Bird took leave of her duties in Iowa to be in New York to be part of the Trump entourage seeking to torpedo the proceedings there. Among her fellow travelers: U.S. Sens. J.D. Vance and Tommy Tuberville.

Iowans who value the rule of law ought to be disgusted.

I confess my bias: I tend to believe Trump is probably guilty of falsifying business records. But I’m an opinion columnist, not an officer of the court. And I will reserve final judgment until a jury decides whether the prosecution has proved its case. I also will continue to wait to see whether the jury’s judgment is affirmed by the appellate court Trump surely will go to if he loses.

I will trust their judgment. They’re closest to the case. I’m not.

Brenna Bird is skipping all that. She’s already proclaimed, without a doubt, that Trump is the victim.

These aren’t the actions of a prosecutor who believes in juries and the legal process. They’re the actions of a politician.

This isn’t to say the legal system is above reproach, of course. Plenty of people have been wronged by the court system, but rich men who live in country clubs aren’t generally among them. They have the money to hire clever lawyers to help them steer clear of consequences. Often, they succeed.

In that vein, Democrats have complained about the federal judge overseeing the criminal indictment in Florida accusing Trump of absconding with secret government documents. Some of the complaints have centered on technical, legal questions; others simply grouse about a “Trump judge” seeking to shield him from accountability.

The former is the argument of a lawyer, the latter is politics.

Now consider what Bird said in a statement: “Biden and his far-left allies will stop at nothing to silence President Trump’s voice and keep him off the campaign trail by keeping him tied up in court … It is wrong, it is election interference, and our country deserves better.”

This kind of analysis won’t get Bird published in a law review, but it might get her on Fox News. Or, as a colleague of mine, Dave Busiek points out, it might earn her an appointment in a new Trump administration, should Trump win in November.

It could be worse. Bird’s allies have attacked the families of the New York judge and prosecutor. Tuberville even complained about the “supposedly American citizens in that courtroom.” Some took this as an attack on the jury.

If Iowa’s top law enforcement officer objected to those attacks, I haven’t seen it.

At the outset of this article, I noted the good news that Americans trust juries. It’s true. A poll last year released by the National Center for State Courts said 61% of Americans expressed some or a great deal of confidence in state courts. That’s actually higher than it has been in recent years. (The Trump case in New York is being heard in a state court.)

More encouraging is the idea that people who have actually served on juries have an even higher opinion of the court system than the general public. An Ipsos survey last year “found that jurors were far more likely than the general public to trust those in the criminal justice system, such as judges at the federal, state, and Supreme Court level, attorneys, nonlegal staff members and law enforcement,” a New York Times article said.

There’s a reason for that.

“If you’re sitting on a jury, even for a day or two, you get a window into a very serious and focused environment,” Stephen Adler, a former legal reporter and Reuters editor who wrote a book on the jury system, said in the Times article. “Having that actual contact makes people, regardless of their preconceived notions, feel better about every actor in the process, all the way up to the judges.”

This is why I trust juries. Inside courtrooms, the participants are usually serious. Outside of courtrooms, our politics rarely is.

Since being elected, Bird has done the job in a vastly different manner than her predecessor. Can you imagine Tom Miller trying to undermine a criminal trial in another state? Of course not. Miller used to frustrate Democrats because he wasn’t more political. Now, Bird has turned the job on its head.

In 2022, Brenna Bird barely defeated Miller. Gov. Kim Reynolds’ strength at the top of the ticket undoubtedly carried her over the line. Reynolds won by 18 points, Bird by less than two points. She didn’t even measure up to most of the other Republican statewide candidates.

Bird’s attacks on Biden and her unquestioning support for Trump will surely help her with Republican base voters, and if she remains in Iowa, she’ll need that support given her relatively weak win two years ago. Still, I would like to think for the rest of us, it will have the opposite effect.

Brenna Bird was right about one thing Monday: Politics has no place in a court of law. Iowa voters should tell her that. It’s a quaint notion in these days of MAGA-fied politics, but we deserve a real prosecutor as our state’s attorney general, not a politician who may well have her eye on the next job, rather than serving the best interests of Iowans.

This column was originally published by Ed Tibbetts’ Along the Mississippi newsletter on Substack. It is republished here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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