“For what?” is the proper response to calls for special prosecutors in most instances. In this case, though, Sean Spicer might have more literal grounds for asking the question. When ABC’s Jon Karl asks about appointing an independent investigator into rumors of connections and coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, Spicer reminds everyone that the FBI has been probing this for months already, under two different administrations, and have found bupkis so far:
Spicer responds to Rep. Issa’s call to investigate Russia-Trump campaign ties: “A special prosecutor for what?” https://t.co/rdisLEZjpm
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 27, 2017
“A special prosecutor for what? We have now for six months seen story after story about unnamed sources saying the same thing over and over again and nothing’s come of it,” Spicer said. “At what point, you have to ask yourself ‘what are you investigating?'”
“If there’s nothing further to investigate, what are you asking people to investigate?” Spicer continued. “At some point you have to ask, what are you looking for?…How many people have to say there’s nothing there before you realize there’s nothing there?”
The sudden media interest in a special prosecutor for potential executive-branch misdeeds seems rather curious, to say the least. Over the last two-plus years, we had a former Secretary of State running for the presidency shown to have operated a secret e-mail system that confounded the Federal Records Act and contradicted the State Department numerous FOIA lawsuits — and mishandled hundreds of pieces of highly classified information to boot. We didn’t get too many inquiries to the White House about special prosecutors in that case, at least not until the Attorney General took a private meeting with the spouse of the perpetrator, and even then the idea didn’t generate as much interest as we see now.
Special prosecutors are last resorts, even if arguably that’s where we were at when Loretta Lynch refused to recuse herself fully after her tarmac tête-à-tête with Bill Clinton in June of last year. That case had clear reasons to believe a crime had been committed, based on the release of the e-mails and the misrepresentations to Congress and various courts about the status of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail. So far, there’s no reason to believe that the Trump campaign violated the law, even if one could establish that they were less than careful about their contacts during the campaign.
“I’d probably take a step back and you know, talk about what we’re actually investigating here,” Paul said on “The Mike Gallagher Show” Monday.
“I wouldn’t really want a special investigator if all we’re hearing is gossip in the media and nobody’s presented any proof that there have been connections or that any law has been broken, for that matter,” he added.
“So I think before people jump to sort of the hysteria of a special prosecutor, why don’t we have somebody present evidence of some sort of wrongdoing before we go forward?” …
“That’s why I’ve been arguing that we shouldn’t politicize this thing, Republican or Democrat. We don’t need a political discussion of this. Law enforcement ought to look at what happened.”
The FBI investigation is still under way, so it’s not over until James Comey sings, so to speak. At this point, though, almost five months after the election, there seems to be very little of substance emerging from this leak-filled administration on potential wrongdoing. That won’t stop Congress from following up on the issue — at least to go after those leakers — and the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows their constituents want to see them take up the investigation, by more than a 2:1 ratio:
About half of Americans believe that Congress should investigate whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had contact with the Russian government in 2016, while only a quarter say that lawmakers should not probe the issue, according to a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll.
The new poll, conducted February 18-22, shows that 53 percent of the American public wants Congress to look into the alleged communications, while 25 percent disagree and 21 percent say they don’t have an opinion.
Roughly the same percentage want a probe into Russian meddling in the election, and it’s not difficult to presume that voters see the issues as linked. On the other hand, voters don’t necessarily see Trump as overwhelmingly too pro-Russia; 38% of voters think he’s too friendly with Vladimir Putin, while 29% says he’s not friendly enough, and the rest (32%) don’t have an opinion either way.
Special prosecutors should only get used as a last resort, as noted above, at least in part because they have little accountability for their operations. Special prosecutors have a long and inglorious history in American politics, usually spending years and millions of dollars to come up with some tangential target and delivering a goose egg on the main scandal. At least in those other cases, there was some indication of lawbreaking, rather than just a fishing exhibition. The FBI and Congress have accountability to the voters directly and indirectly, and they are sufficient for oversight here.
Update: The context of Karl’s question was Rep. Darrell Issa’s declaration on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday that the case needs a special prosecutor. Today, Issa hit reverse:
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) backtracked his call for a special prosecutor to look into Russian involvement in the 2016 Presidential election. “I certainly could see where if there is an allegation of a crime at some point, the call for a special prosecutor makes sense,” Issa told CBS News in an interview on Monday but adding, “I think it’s very important to realize there’s been no allegation by any part of this administration or by anyone who’s been to the hearings about any crimes.”
He continued, “So one of the challenges we have is a special prosecutor exists when you have an individual under suspicion. Currently we don’t have that.”
No, we don’t. And even then, we don’t need a special prosecutor unless and until we establish that the Department of Justice has been compromised in its law-enforcement role. You know … like when the Attorney General takes private meetings with the spouse of an investigation target.