More amusing than substantive, but Jeff Sessions offers a fine needling to the Democratic and media hysteria over Russia. When they haven’t been baying for Sessions to resign (while simultaneously pleading with him to favor their priorities), Democrats have insisted that the Attorney General appoint a special prosecutor on anonymous allegations regarding supposed collusion, evidence for which even those sources can’t provide. Sessions, with a little help from our friend Hugh Hewitt, gets a chance to turn the tables by having Sessions discuss whether a special prosecutor might be a good idea … to finally get some answers on Obama administration scandals (audio at the first link):
HH: Now let me switch to the Department itself, Mr. Attorney General. It had a bad eight years. I’m a proud veteran of the Department of Justice, as you are. But the IRS case, the Fast and Furious case, Secretary Clinton’s server, the Department of Justice came under great criticism. How about an outside counsel, not connected to politics, to review the DOJ’s actions in those matters with authority to bring charges if underlying crimes are uncovered in the course of the investigation, and just generally to look at how the Department of Justice operated in the highly-politicized Holder-Lynch years?
JS: Well, I’m going to do everything I possibly can to restore the independence and professionalism of the Department of Justice. So we would have to consider whether or not some outside special counsel is needed. Generally, a good review of that internally is the first step before any such decision is made.
HH: Will you be looking at the IRS investigation specifically, because that left many of us thinking that the Department of Justice had laid down for a terrible abuse of political power?
JS: It does. That circumstance raised a lot of questions in my mind, and when I was in the Senate. So it is a matter of real concern to me.
Until this week, the idea that Donald Trump’s DoJ would spend much time looking back at its predecessor would have seemed silly. Trump threatened to have Hillary Clinton more thoroughly investigated, even suggesting the use of a special prosecutor, which lead to the “Lock her up!” chants at his rallies, but he’s shown zero interest in that since the election. Trump suddenly make Barack Obama the target of his ire on Saturday over leaks and alleged wiretapping, so maybe the White House would take this possibility more seriously now than anything to do with Clinton. Or, possibly, the attacks this week may have been aimed to turn the tables on the Russia story and put the leakers in the spotlight, and Trump’s aiming to have Congress rather than his own administration carry that burden — which would be the smart play.
Sessions doesn’t really bite on the special-prosecutor question, at least as it applies to the DoJ, as a careful reading of his response will demonstrate. He does offer a stronger response on the IRS, and was almost immediately backed up on that by the news of several thousand documents still being withheld from Congress and FOIA courts by the IRS. However, that wouldn’t really require a special prosecutor — the DoJ can simply investigate the IRS for wrongdoing as it does other government entities. Unless some specific conflict of interest arises, appointing a special prosecutor for that case would suggest that no DoJ can investigate other government agencies, which would set a corrosive precedent for accountability.
When it comes to the DoJ scandals of the previous administration, though, Sessions falls back on some legalistic political boilerplate. His team will conduct an internal review, while working to “restore the independence and professionalism of the Department of Justice.” That’s a polite way of saying We’ll get back to you on that one, buddy. In this instance, it’s more interesting that the question got raised than the answer that was provided, and the message that Sessions sends by treating the question seriously.
In a column today at the New York Post, Hugh warns Democrats bent on getting a special prosecutor that they may bite off more than they can chew, especially if Republicans set the scope of the investigation:
Let’s be clear: It seems obvious Russia did meddle with our process and used WikiLeaks to do so. I and other conservatives said as much repeatedly during the election.
But any special prosecutor appointed to look into the alleged “Russian connection” should also be given a scope of inquiry that includes the handing of the investigation into Clinton’s server, the slow-walking of document delivery to the Congress and the courts concerning Clinton’s administration of the State Department as well as alleged Obama administration leaks of classified information from the first campaign debate forward.
Of course, that special prosecutor will have to look at every application for surveillance in connection with either candidate for the presidency, made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. …
And buyer beware: Special prosecutors are immune from any constraint. They go where they want and when they want.
That’s why they have proven in almost every instance to be far more trouble than they’re worth, or in the value of what they produce. Sessions knows this, and will be more reluctant to go down that road now that he’s part of an administration with something to lose in the transaction. But if that’s what Democrats want, they may find themselves plagued by getting their wish.