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Say wh-a-a-a-t?

May 2, 2018

Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy U.S. Attorney General, is being widely quoted as saying that he perceives any efforts to impeach him or other DOJ officials in order to compel the delivery of DOJ documents to Congress as extortion.

That strikes some people as rather ridiculous, given that the Department of Justice was created by Congress in more or less its present form as a Cabinet position, responsible to the executive branch of government in 1870, taking the place of various other iterations of a Federal domestic police force that date back to the creation of this country.

It is comprised of eight divisions, each of whom has a responsibility to perform investigations according to their focus, i.e. the criminal division, tax division, civil rights division, etc. etc.

Each of those divisions in turn spawned a number of other agencies, such as the U.S Marshals Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Bureau of Prisons, Office of the Inspector General,  and so forth.

In short, the DOJ is NOT a fourth branch of government.

OK, so let’s try to understand Mr. Rosenstein’s argument. It seems to look like this.

Congress can threaten to impeach a president, but it can’t threaten to impeach the leadership of the Department of Justice for failure to obey a direct order.

So,  repeatedly threatening to impeach a President is a legal and lawful exercise of legislative power, but seeking to hold the leadership of a Cabinet level department accountable for its action is extortion.

Righto, we think we’ve got it now.

Technically of course, the President could have wiped out the entire upper management level of the DOJ with the stroke of a pen on inauguration day. Some presidents have done just that, demanding that the staff of various Federal agencies resign, sometimes with the right to re-apply and sometimes not.

Like most of his predecessors, President Trump did not do that, preferring instead to wait until he could evaluate the management staff for himself.

That brings us back to the present.

No one, not Joe the Plumber or even a member of Congress should have to wait years before getting information legally requested from any government agency.

The only legal hook we see that Mr. Rosenstein could have thrown his hat at would be that the documents in question are part of an ongoing Federal investigation.

Given that some of the documents requested may relate directly or indirectly to the Inspector General’s current probe into the handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation, that might even have worked, at least in the short term.

The fact that he didn’t even try that avenue first, says an awful lot about the DOJ in general and Mr. Rosenstein in particular.


From → op-ed

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