The Health of the Republic bar has dropped another 4% in recent weeks. This is largely due to the unfolding three scandals at the Department of Justice:
- The blatantly-political firing of eight US prosecutors
- The new revelations about presidential interference in the internal DOJ audit of the warrantless wiretapping program
- The rampant abuse of National Security Letters by FBI agents
More below the fold.
As the right-wing noise machine is quick to point out, prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the President; are political appointees; and can be removed at any time. What the noise machine leaves out is that customarily US prosecutors are considered independent; that this independence is crucial to their functioning; and that the rule of law depends on respect and trust that the State is executing the laws neutrally and not for a political gain. Moreover, getting lost in the echo chamber is the vital fact that some, if not most, were fired because they were unwilling to brook interference in election fraud cases. Considering that this Administration squeaked into office on interpretations of election law that are — charitably — stretched, one would think they would not want to throw around charges of fraud. But then the arrogance of this Administration has been rarely matched in American history.
Warrantless Wiretapping Investigation Block
This story isn’t exactly new, but over the summer, the President personally intervened to deny clearances for the investigators in the Office of Professional Responsibility to look into the details of the warrantless wiretapping scheme to see if DOJ operatives broke the law in participating. By denying the clearances, the President effectively shut down the investigation — and he was apprised of that by the attorney-general, among others. At the time, the right wing noise machine clamored that this was routine and that allowing access would have undermined national security interests. Yet at the very same time that the OPR was being walled off from the information need to evaluate whether the DOJ was breaking the law, the President saw fit to hand out dozens of clearances to the same information — including to other DOJ investigators (those pursuing the leak of the program’s existence) and to outright non-governmental civilians (the President’s much-ballyhooed Prvacy Board). Somehow, these didn’t compromise national security.
FBI and the NSLs
This has the potential to drag the bar much lower. The FBI is authorized to obtain some information from, say, telecom companies in pursuit of a national security investigation and pursuant to warrants being sought. These so-called “national security letters” allow the agents to act quickly and attend to the legal details afterward, preventing suspects from slipping away while paperwork is done. The potential for abuse is staggering, and so the use of NSLs has been ringed with many safeguards. The revised Patriot Act cut away several of the important ones but left at least a few intact. A recent report by the DOJ inspector-general, however, has made clear that the FBI willfully and knowingly bypassed even those weakened safeguards and used the NSLs in a manner clearly and obnoxiously not legal. The telecoms, by the way, deserve much derision because they went along meekly rather than seek to protect the data of their customers. The number of improper accesses reaches into the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. The FBI, the federal agency most charged with upholding the rule of law, has shown its utter comtempt for that concept. We are forced to wonder: In this so-called War on Terror — invoked as an existential struggle for the very future of civilization — what exactly are we fighting to save, if not the principles of law that have made us a free nation?
The drop is a relatively modest 4% because these scandals emerged and have shown surprising traction due to the correct and careful use of the subpeona power by the newly-invigorated Democratic Congress. It’s possible, just possible, that the rule of law is beginning to recover.