Stop me if you’ve heard this before.  Allegations arise of abuses of power and wrongdoing in a subordinate agency of a Cabinet department, which then conducts an investigation that lays the blame on a few low-level staffers and then insists that any further debate on the issue is nothing more than a “phony scandal.” The State Department did that with Benghazi, Treasury (or at least the White House’s spin on the IG report) with the IRS, and the Department of Justice with Operation Fast and Furious. The DoJ will now take a second spin on the Wheel Of Scapegoats by launching its own investigation into the DEA’s alleged widespread spying:

The US Department of Justice has launched an investigation into revelations that the Drug Enforcement Agency uses surveillance tactics – including wiretapping and massive databases of telephone records – to arrest Americans, amid growing concerns from lawyers and civil rights groups over its lack of transparency.

Reuters on Monday detailed how the Special Operative Division – a unit within the DEA comprising representatives of two dozen agencies including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security – passes tips from wiretaps, informants and a database of telephone records to field agents to investigate and arrest criminals. Reuters reports that, although such cases rarely involve national security issues, the DEA agents using the tips are trained to “recreate” the source of the criminal investigation to conceal its true origin from defence lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

The revelations, which follow the Guardian’s recent disclosures of the National Security Agency’s wholescale collection of US phone data, have raised concerns among judges, prosecutors and civil rights lawyers over a lack of transparency. Many said the SOD practice violates a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial.

Reason’s Ed Krayewski sounds a skeptical note:

It looks like it’s not just the president but the Department of Justice that learns about what’s going on in the government from the news. …

And why would Eric Holder or the DOJ know about what the DEA was doing before it hit the papers?

In other words …

One essential part of the investigation will be to see who ordered the DEA to use those surveillance techniques in the first place.  If the phone data actually came from the NSA — something that hasn’t been established yet — then that means cooperation between Cabinet agencies that goes way above the DEA and NSA and into their parent departments, one of which is the DoJ.  So why are we to trust the DoJ to investigate itself yet again for allegations of misconduct and abuse of power?

Congress needs to hold this investigation itself, in public, with subpoenas all around.  Either that, or we need a special prosecutor independent of the DoJ whose mission won’t be to find the first low-level staffers that pop up onto whom blame can be shifted.