Bring back Ken Starr

The second reason to bring in a special prosecutor is that it’s the surest way to get answers the public might trust. The Republicans are not so much looking for “the truth” as they are looking for a resonant story line – whether it is Mitch McConnell’s theme that Obama has begotten “a culture of intimidation” (not that anybody seems very intimidated, least of all the Tea Party) or confirmation that Government Is The Problem, or the more plausible argument that the White House is too often AWOL. The Democrats, for their part, are not so much looking for “the truth” as trying to change the subject: it’s about the flood of special interest money from undisclosed donors, it’s about underfunding of the government, it’s about the desperate need for tax reform. What it’s about is this: at least one I.R.S. outpost engaged in behavior that was at best stupid and at worst alarming. It’s about shoring up America’s trust in its government, and in this president.

The third reason for a special counsel is that the government has serious business to conduct, and the scandal circus on Capitol Hill is a terrible distraction. Oversight, so-called, is what we do these days instead of passing a budget, reforming the immigration system, or processing the countless government and judicial appointments awaiting confirmation. Handing off the I.R.S. problem to a special counsel and putting congressional hearings on hold would allow everyone, including journalists, to turn their attention to all that unfinished business. Besides, as Professor Harriger points out, Congressional hearings could interfere with the independent investigation. (Several of the men convicted in the Iran-Contra scandal got their convictions thrown out because they testified first before Congress, with immunity.) If the investigation produces an unconvincing result, then fire up the subpoenas and recommence oversight.