Monday, June 23, 2014

Bring Back the Special Prosecutor?

Carl Cannon explains why both political parties are understandably chary of special prosecutors, but also why the current IRS scandal seems to demand one anyway. President Obama insists that "there's not a smidgeon of corruption" at the IRS, but anyone who has not been subject to a prefrontal lobotomy finds the president's claim literally incredible.

If the IRS were trying to hide evidence of malfeasance what would they do differently than plead the fifth amendment at congressional hearings, refuse to cooperate at every step, and then claim that computer hard drives of a half dozen people whose correspondence would enable investigators to get to the bottom of the matter coincidentally crashed during just the time period in question with the hard drives having subsequently been destroyed.

If the IRS in general, and Lois Lerner in particular, had nothing to hide they surely wouldn't be doing everything they could to give the appearance that they do.

Cannon writes this:
The anniversary of the Watergate burglary arrived this week, along with the disquieting revelation that it’s not just disgraced former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner who’s taking the Fifth. Her email is clamming up, too.

More than a year into the controversy over the tax agency’s targeting of conservative non-profit groups, IRS officials casually told congressional investigators last week that a 2011 computer crash caused thousands of sought-after Lerner emails to disappear. So, can the mess at the IRS now objectively be called an Obama administration scandal?

White House officials don’t concede the point. “You’ve never heard of a computer crashing before?” presidential spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “The far-fetched skepticism expressed by some Republican members of Congress,” he added, “I think is not at all surprising and not particularly believable.”
That's the White House's position - to criticize the Republicans for not believing that six or seven computers all crashed at the same time and the very emails the Republicans requested were lost. It's like faulting the Republicans because they refuse to be idiots.

Cannon continues:
With its unprecedented abuse of executive power, no modern scandal was ever like Watergate, but this was a passable imitation of Richard Nixon’s press secretary Ron Ziegler, who said two days after five suspects were arrested in the Watergate break-in that “certain elements may try to stretch this beyond what it is.”

President Obama himself hasn’t been above channeling Nixon, either. When the story first broke that the IRS was targeting groups with “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in their names, he told reporters aboard Air Force One that these machinations were all the work of a few rogue agents in an Ohio IRS office -- “two Dilberts in Cincinnati” was the president’s phrase.

After it turned out that the Washington office was actually calling the shots, Obama didn’t change his story. Yes, some “bone-headed decisions” were made, he told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly -- but it didn’t entail “even a smidgen of corruption.”
If that's true, why are they stonewalling Congress? This is not a minor peccadillo on the part of the IRS. This is an abuse of power that's worse than any in the history of our government. It's the illegal use of the taxing agency of the government to punish an array of citizens for their political views by denying them tax exemptions that similar organizations on the left are granted. It's the attempt to actually prosecute some conservatives in a court of law for no reason other than that they oppose the President's policies.

Cannon goes on to explain how the special prosecutor's role was abused in the past to the discomfiture of both Republicans and Democrats and why the law was allowed to expire:
One way to get those missing emails would be with a federal inspector general complete with subpoena powers. Another -- and God help me for saying this -- would be a special prosecutor.

Watergate begat the independent counsel system, enacted by law as a post-Watergate reform by a Congress burned by the memory of the “Saturday Night Massacre” -- Nixon’s firing of one attorney general after another until he found someone willing to sack special prosecutor Archibald Cox. It was only a temporary victory for the beleaguered president, but it convinced most Americans -- and not just Democrats -- that the Justice Department couldn’t be trusted to investigate executive branch wrongdoing. Problems with the new reform arose from the start, however. Theoretically, special prosecutors were subject to judicial oversight, but in practice they were on their own....

For years, Republicans complained that congressional Democrats were abusing the law by demanding independent counsels for Republicans in the executive branch who thwarted their policy goals. Every Republican had their favorite horror story. One of the most egregious involved Lawrence Walsh. His zealous Iran-contra probe produced an October surprise -- the indictment of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and sliming of GOP presidential candidate George H.W. Bush a week before the 1992 presidential election.

For the better part of two decades these GOP complaints fell on deaf ears. All that changed when Bill Clinton was elected president, and congressional Republicans began using the independent counsel statute -- with its absurdly low standard of proof for triggering a special prosecutor -- against administration officials. Initially, Attorney General Janet Reno defended the statute, but as the 1990s rolled by Democrats began compiling their own list of fanatical special prosecutors....
There's more at the link. Despite the long list of prosecutorial excesses and abuses Cannon recites, the IRS scandal is so serious and so intractable, given administration stonewalling, that he adds this:
Eventually, the law was allowed to lapse during the Clinton administration. Many of us thought this was a good thing. Now, many executive branch observers are second-guessing themselves.

The current scandal has featured lying to Congress and stonewalling, and now missing evidence. The very fact that it appears to involve the Internal Revenue Service infuriates Republicans, as it should. Once upon a time, liberals were outraged by this sort of behavior, too -- one in particular.
In closing, Cannon reminds us that one of the articles of impeachment that was to have been brought against President Nixon in July of 1974 was that the president had “in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens [caused] income tax audits or other income tax investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner," and that the president had been guilty of “withholding relevant and material evidence or information from lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States.”

One of the House Judiciary Committee staff attorneys who helped prepare those articles was Hillary Rodham Clinton. “It’s important to get back to very professional inquiries that can’t be accused of politicizing things,” Clinton said in a recent interview. “Let’s try and find out what the facts are.”

Yes, let's. It'd be a lot easier, however, if Democrats didn't feel the need to defend bureaucrats who are obviously hiding the truth from the American people and to obstruct in whatever ways they can the efforts to find out exactly what that truth is.