In response to feigned surprise over administration actions that result in human suffering and death, critics of the Trump administration have been inclined to respond, “cruelty is the point.” In other words, policy decisions are not made despite consequences for vulnerable people; they are made with the intent to inflict hardship so as to serve administration objectives (e.g., deporting “dreamers” to fend off future illegal immigration). Nowhere is this more evident than in the immoral and un-American child separation policy.

The depravity of the policy was captured by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, as the New York Times reported on Tuesday night. Despite repeated public denials that the Justice Department had directed the policy, Horowitz learned that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had made clear during a May 2018 conference call with U.S. attorneys that President Trump wanted a “zero tolerance” family separation policy. “We need to take away children,” Sessions reportedly said. One of the attorneys on the call put it down in notes: “If care about kids, don’t bring them in. Won’t give amnesty to people with kids.” The Times also reported: “Rod J. Rosenstein, then the deputy attorney general, went even further in a second call about a week later, telling the five prosecutors that it did not matter how young the children were. He said that government lawyers should not have refused to prosecute two cases simply because the children were barely more than infants.”

There’s also this passage from the Times’s reporting, reminiscent of so many cases of human rights abuse around the globe: “Gene Hamilton, a top lawyer and ally of Stephen Miller, the architect of the president’s assault on immigration, argued in a 32-page response that Justice Department officials merely took direction from the president.” Just following orders. If anyone in the administration bothered to pick up a history book, they might have figured out that it would have been better to quit than to carry out such immoral policies.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden reacted as many Americans would — with horror and anger:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also released a blistering statement: “The active participation of senior Department of Justice officials — including the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General — in President Trump’s plan to deliberately and callously tear apart immigrant families is another degradation of the Department," he declared. "The months-long delay in the release of the Inspector General’s final report, perhaps until after the election, suggests a Department still running political errands for the president. The American people need a full accounting of the damage this President has inflicted on our system of justice.”

Horowitz’s revelations leave the impression that Sessions and Rosenstein were not only cruel but also cowardly. If they believed in the policy, why not claim ownership? Why deny there was a policy or shift blame to the Department of Homeland Security?

Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, tells me, “This report shows a complete lack of any moral leadership at the senior levels of the department. Even now, Rod Rosenstein is hiding behind a flimsy bureaucratic excuse to justify his role in a policy that was pure evil.” Miller adds, “The stain left by this horrific policy should follow everyone involved for the rest of their lives.”

On one level, this discovery is just another piece of the picture of a Justice Department that has lost its way. Overrun by ideologues and lacking the professional and moral spine to push back on orders that undermined the rule of law, too many lawyers cooperated with or failed to ring the alarm as Sessions, Rosenstein and later Attorney General William P. Barr (who further politicized the Justice Department in spinning the Mueller report and intervening in the Roger Stone and Michael Flynn cases) misrepresented their work, acted as the president’s private attorney and refused to uphold the finest traditions of the department.

Former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance observes, “The IG’s report is a shocking reminder that DOJ lost its way long before Bill Barr took over as AG.” She adds, “The Justice Department is the only Cabinet level agency whose name is a moral virtue. Trump’s Justice Department failed to live up to it.”

The Justice Department is going to need a top-to-bottom evaluation to see what, if any, laws were broken in this or other matters (including lies under oath to courts or Congress), what department procedures were broken and what professional responsibilities were ignored. Those who have brought disrepute on the department need to be fired, and, if warranted, an accounting of their actions should be submitted to state bar authorities for disciplinary action.

If elected, Biden will need an attorney general willing to take this on, mete out appropriate discipline and then rebuild the Justice Department’s reputation. Right now, it is a disgraced and broken organization.