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OXON HILL, MD — Law and order was a big theme of CPAC this week. So was overcriminalization. It was a tension that didn’t so much highlight a libertarian-vs-conservative divide, as much as a split between the conservative movement — which has moved in a civil libertarian direction in recent years — and Trump-world Republicans.

Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke is the most audacious and famous voice for aggressive and merciless policing. Clarke is scheduled to speak twice at CPAC and an effort to recruit him for U.S. Senate has been very visible at the conference.

In his Thursday panel, Clarke invoked President Trump, whom Clarke said “has made it very clear that it is high time… that we start aggressively enforcing the rule of law.”

Trump, in his Friday morning speech, went on his American Carnage riff repeating “Seven people shot and killed…seven people shot and killed,” in Chicago recently.

Directly after Trump, though, a panel titled “Prosecutors gone wild,” took the stage. The speakers were conservatives — including David Keene, former President of the American Conservative Union — excoriating overcriminalization as well as overzealous, illegal prosecution. “They make up evidence” former U.S. Attorney Sidney Powell said.

Kevin Ring, who went to jail for his work with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now runs Families Against Mandatory Minimums. Ring spoke on that panel where he tied prosecutorial abuse to overregulation. “We know power corrupts,” he said.

Ring said “very broad criminal laws” allow a prosecutor to whom “everything looks like a crime,” to arrest whomever they want.

“The problem is, you may be unpopular at some point,” Ring said, citing an overzealous war on guns, which stuck one man (a legal gun owner) with a 20-year sentence for firing a warning shot when he felt threatened.

Shortly before Trump spoke, Stephen Mills, a police chief from Oklahoma, spoke about the abuse of civil asset forfeiture, wherein law enforcement take money and property from people who are suspected of crimes.

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A later panel focussed on criminal justice reform in the states.

Again, this isn’t an old battle between libertarians and conservatives. The conservative movement has been drifting towards reining in law enforcement. As Keene pointed out, conservative governors like Rick Perry and Mary Fallin and Nathan Deal have led the way on criminal justice reform.

But Donald Trump won the GOP nomination and the White House warning about a crime wave, and calling for empowering —even setting loose — the police.

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner’s commentary editor, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Tuesday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.

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