Time to remove the Justice Department from the president’s cabinet

Special to WorldTribune , October 31, 2016

By Chuck Ambrose

The most recent revelation in the sordid saga of the Clinton email “investigation” — that Democratic Party officials funneled over half a million dollars into the campaign chest of the wife of the FBI agent supervising that investigation — has been met with yet another institutional shrug by the Department of Justice.

The willingness of DOJ to look the other way in this case calls into question the wisdom of having that department — and the FBI which it supposedly supervised — report to the President.

Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno okayed the armed seizure of six-year-old Elián Gonzalez, returning him to Castro’s Cuba, even though his mother had died at sea seeking a free life for her son in the United States.
Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno okayed the armed seizure of six-year-old Elián Gonzalez, returning him to Castro’s Cuba, even though his mother had died at sea seeking a free life for her son in the United States.

This problem is not one tied only to the Democrats over the recent course of history. A review of the last half-century is instructive:

– In the early 1970s, Republican Richard Nixon’s former Attorney General John Mitchell was sentenced to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal, and was disbarred by the State of New York.

– Janet Reno, Bill Clinton’s Attorney General from 1993-1998, authorized the disastrous assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which resulted in 76 deaths, including many women and children.

– Reno also okayed the armed seizure of six-year-old Elián Gonzalez, returning him to Castro’s Cuba even though his mother had died at sea seeking a free life for her son in the United States.

– Reno also rejected calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate allegations regarding illegal campaign financing donations to the Clintons by John Huang.

– Alberto Gonzalez, George W. Bush’s Attorney General from 2005-2007, presided over the dismissal of several United States Attorneys for purely political reasons. He denied knowledge of the process, and tried to blame his actions on career attorneys within DOJ. Records released by DOJ afterward suggested that Gonzalez’ claims of non-involvement were false. He was forced to resign under pressure.

– Eric Holder, Barrack Obama’s first Attorney General, was appointed to the office despite having been a member of a law firm which had defended Guantanamo terrorists, a matter which should have disqualified him from presiding over related legal issues while AG.

– Holder’s DOJ’s attempt to prosecute Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska had to be dismissed because of discovery violations, and Main Justice attorneys supervising the prosecution tried to pin the blame on local federal prosecutors in Alaska.

– Holder’s “Smart On Crime” initiative resulted in the early release and/or reduced sentences for hundreds of convicted felons, many of whom were large-scale drug traffickers. One inmate benefitting from an early release as a result of this initiative, Wendell Callahan, is charged with murdering his former girlfriend and two of her children in Columbus, Ohio, at a time when he should have still been in prison.

– Holder oversaw Operation Fast and Furious, which resulted in the sale of hundreds of firearms to Mexican drug cartel members. The murders of many victims on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border were traced to weapons sold during the operation. When Congress demanded a complete disclosure of records regarding the scandal, Holder refused to release them, and was held in contempt of Congress.

– Despite having taken an oath to enforce the laws of the United States, Holder refused to prosecute banks for financial crimes, declaring them “too big to fail,” issued policy directives instructing federal prosecutors not to enforce federal laws prohibiting marijuana trafficking, and diluted enforcement of immigration laws. In November of 2013, a resolution was introduced in Congress seeking Holder’s impeachment. He resigned in 2014.

– Holder’s replacement, Loretta Lynch, held the now notorious meeting on the tarmac with former President Bill Clinton, at a time when Clinton’s wife and foundation were under FBI investigation for numerous criminal violations.

The office of the Attorney General was created by an act of Congress in the Judiciary Act of 1789, and the Department of Justice was created by yet another act of Congress in 1870.

Accordingly, only another act of Congress is required to move the position and the department and change the terms of their operation. This curative action would have the following benefits:

– It would make DOJ an independent operating agency, led by an Attorney General reporting to Congress, with a term—like the Director of the FBI—of ten years, overlapping presidential administrations, would greatly reduce the political influence of the executive branch over both DOJ and the FBI, and would obviate any need for the appointment of any special prosecutor to investigate wrongdoing.

– It would also eliminate a recurring problem for Congressional oversight: the repeated claims by administrations of executive privilege in order to refuse to give Congress the records it needs to perform its oversight functions. If the department is no longer part of the executive branch, there is no executive privilege.

– There are ninety-four United States Attorneys with offices in districts throughout the country. Attempts by both parties to politicize the department have resulted in a political class of supervisors at Main Justice, and have increasingly politicized decisions by United States Attorneys in their respective districts. At the local levels, these decisions result in the protection of senators and congressmen from fellow Republicans and Democrats, and attacks—in the form of indictments—directed toward members of the opposing party.

– Approving the appointment of an Attorney General by a super majority of Congress (either two-thirds or three-fourths) could ensure bi-partisan approval of neutral, career prosecutors interested only in doing the right thing for a fixed term of years. Allowing the Attorney General to appoint Main Justice supervisors and United States Attorneys —  subject to approval by Congress — could have the same effect at the level where most prosecutorial decisions are made. The Department of Justice could return to its intended missions: the enforcement of the nation’s laws without political bias or interference. It could become the conscience of the nation, not the protector of executive corruption.

Charles Ambrose is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, a former USAF JAG officer, and served for twenty-five years as an Assistant United States Attorney in the District of Columbia and in the Western District of Missouri. He is the author of the Jeff Trask crime dramas, writing under the name Marc Rainer. His newest novel in the series, A Winter of Wolves, is available now on Amazon.com.