Russiagate Just Us, For All

Thursday, March 26, 2020
A single article from Eric Felten at RCP, Accused in Justice Dept.'s Upper Echelon, and Innocent Until Scot-Free
The Department of Justice OIG does not keep complete public records on the number of prosecutions that result from its investigations. But the office does keep track of certain cases – those involving wrongdoing by senior DoJ managers and officials that Justice declines to prosecute.

In 2019 the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s office issued 27 such reports of alleged wrongdoing by senior Justice Department officials and employees that went unprosecuted – everything from nepotism in hiring, to making false claims on mortgage documents, to “lack of candor” with federal investigators, to sexual assault. RealClearInvestigations reviewed the OIG’s summaries of its investigations and found that in at least a dozen of those cases the inspector general determined that the wrongdoing was serious enough to be criminal. Even so, the Department of Justice declined to bring criminal charges. The sticky-fingered FBI attorney was one of the more strictly treated – she had to agree to 125 hours of community service to avoid prosecution.

The OIG also makes public the outcomes of “cases involving high profile investigations” such as those into former FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

“By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment,” the OIG found, “Comey set a dangerous example.” The Inspector General’s office provided its “findings to the Department for a prosecutorial decision.” But, “After reviewing the matter, the Department declined prosecution.”

As for McCabe, the OIG found he repeatedly lacked candor while being questioned under oath. Justice chose not to bring charges against him either.

It’s much harder to find cases of senior officials who are found by the OIG to have committed wrongdoing and are subsequently prosecuted. An example is Barbara Zoccola, who was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Memphis until the OIG caught her falsifying her time and attendance records.

But there are reasons to believe such prosecutions are rare. For example, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia – who would have jurisdiction over misconduct committed in Washington – puts out press releases announcing indictments and convictions. In 2019 there were press releases regarding any number of murders, robberies, and molestations – the all too common crimes of any big city. But Washington being the seat of government, there were announcements of indictments and convictions of government employees, including cases of bribery at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and at Veterans Affairs, as well as espionage at the departments of State and Defense. But none of the 2019 releases involved wrongdoing by senior DOJ officials.

Another advantage DOJ officials apparently enjoy is that those alleged to have committed wrongdoing – even criminal wrongdoing – are rarely named publicly.

This leniency is drawing new scrutiny in the wake of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian collusion, which repeatedly used the full force of the law to convict associates of President Trump of process crimes, especially the crime of making false statements to government investigators.

Many of the 27 cases of senior official wrongdoing reported by the Justice OIG last year were resolved by the resignation of the misbehaving employee. “Federal employees facing potential disciplinary action do often resign instead,” says Sean Bigley, who practices government employment and security clearance law. “So the fact is that a lot of senior officials found culpable of misconduct escape accountability.” Government employees have job protections that few in the private sector enjoy. Officials who have gotten themselves in trouble “can frequently negotiate their exit in lieu of punishment,” Bigley says. “These types of arrangements are, indeed, undertaken with an eye toward avoiding the time and hassle of litigation.”

But even when an official is already long gone from federal service, the DOJ instinct is to treat its own with a generosity that has not been on display in the cases involving associates of Donald Trump.

A former deputy assistant attorney general was not happy that his brother was sharing a hospital room with another patient. A January 2019 OIG report states that he called the hospital claiming he was “the No. 4 person with the Department of Justice.” Leveraging that falsehood, the former Justice official demanded his brother be moved to a private room. The hospital complied.

When questioned by agents of the Department of Justice Inspector General, the former high-ranking attorney readily admitted he had committed “an ethical violation.” He “also agreed that his conduct amounted to the impersonation of a government official.”
I suppose the point of the article is that the "kid gloves" treatment of FBI, DOJ and other high government officials is not unique to the Russiagate saga, but widespread though out the government.

Where is Bill Barr when we really need him?
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