Yesterday, the Department of Justice offered a curious contrast in their fight against corruption, with actions in two cases sending competing messages. Apart, each case has its own highlights, and cover very different kinds of alleged corruption. Put together, though, it seems to tell an intriguing story about how this Department of Justice views its mission, and its targets, which is the subject of my column today at The Fiscal Times:

Nearly eleven months later, the Department of Justice has decided to pass on enforcing the contempt charge. Even though Lerner offered testimony in her opening statement and her declaration of innocence, and even though Congress has a compelling interest in oversight over corruption in the executive branch, Ronald Machen informed John Boehner that the Justice Department decided that Lerner didn’t waive her Fifth Amendment rights even while opening with a statement declaring her innocence 17 separate times. …

The targeting took place over the two years between the rise of the Tea Party in early 2010 and the election cycle in 2012, and at least appeared intended to squelch President Obama’s political opponents and their attempts to organize effectively – a corrosive abuse of power, if substantiated. Yet the DOJ has demonstrated very little sense of urgency for its investigation.

Supposedly, the FBI’s probe into IRS targeting of conservative groups and the illegal dissemination of private records continues, even though we’re coming up to the two-year mark in about six weeks and it’s not clear whether they’ve even gotten around to deposing all of the victims yet. Contrast that with the speed and vigor in which the DoJ pursued Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), whose interventions on behalf of a big donor in a case of personal corruption raised plenty of eyebrows two years ago:

Yet these two cases provide a remarkable contrast in Justice’s reaction to two types of corruption. Personal corruption seems to get plenty of effort — almost immediately calling a grand jury, and what looks like energetic prosecution – as it should. Corrupting the tax process and potentially two different electoral cycles, coupled with false testimony to Congress, exposure of private taxpayer data, and a government official found in contempt of Congress merit a much different level of enthusiasm and due diligence.

Taxpayers, especially as they submit their records to the IRS over the next couple of weeks, can be forgiven for wondering why.

There have been suggestions that Menendez’ prosecution is politically motivated, as a means to squelch opposition to the Iran deal in the Senate. It might have the effect of slowing it down, but that’s all. Besides, the grand jury had this almost immediately after the allegations arose, in February 2013, The timing is probably coincidental, albeit fortuitous for the White House. The issue here is that the DoJ put a lot more enthusiasm into their pursuit of Menendez than of the IRS, and that’s been the case ever since the targeting got exposed.

Power Line’s Scott Johnson isn’t impressed with the Menendez indictment, however, and wonders whether it can stick:

One damning set of facts goes to Senator Menendez’s acceptance of “gifts” (flights and vacation accommodations) worth thousands of dollars together with their omission on the reports Senator Menendez was required to file with the Senate (paragraphs 64-69). The New Jersey Star-Ledger comments: “Regardless of the outcome, it is hard to fathom Menendez’s lack of judgment after a long career in a state that has been cursed by so much corruption. Why would he even dance close to this line?”

Yet this is no secret and it is ancient history (2006-2010). One wonders why now? …

Section III of the indictment itemizes “official acts” taken by Senator Menendez to benefit Dr. Melgen’s personal interests with his foreign girlfriends (perhaps performing jobs American ladies wouldn’t do) as well as business interests with Medicare and otherwise. This too is ancient history and business as usual. Paragraphs 190-197 itemize Senator Menendez’s efforts to get Dr. Melgen’s lobbyist an audience with then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Senior Health Counsel. Hey, what did Harry Reid know and when did he know it?

The allegations regarding these “official acts” form the heart of the indictment. No allegation makes out a quid pro quo arrangement. The following counts allege bribery, but the factual allegations don’t make it out. The evidence alleged appears to be entirely circumstantial. It is susceptible of construction as politics as usual. I am left with an uneasy feeling that there is less here than meets the eye, but I encourage interested readers to review the indictment themselves and form they own tentative conclusions.

We can already conclude that this Department of Justice has a lot more interest in showy proceedings over personal corruption than it has in rooting out bureaucratic corruption … especially when the latter benefits the existing administration, and the former doesn’t.