Power to investigate the government mustn’t be erased

congressHere are two important questions which are often obscured by the noise and spatter from the blood sport of electoral politics.

Does honest government matter?

Can anything be done to prevent dishonest government or clean it up?

The answer to the first question is yes, it matters. Voters make choices based on the information they have. A government that makes dishonest statements cannot claim to have the consent of the governed. Instead, it’s governing by force and fraud.

The answer to the second question is yes, unless the government is dishonest.

The tools for preventing and cleaning up dishonest government include laws like the Inspector General Act of 1978, which created internal watchdog offices in government agencies, Justice Department prosecutions and congressional oversight.

It’s easy to dismiss congressional investigations as politically motivated, but the Constitution gives Congress broad authority to conduct oversight, per the language of Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment,” and “the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”

A necessary part of the power to impeach is the power to investigate.

The House has just initiated impeachment proceedings against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. He’s accused of failing to respond to a lawful subpoena for documents, obstructing a congressional investigation, giving false and misleading statements under oath, and failing to competently oversee an investigation into “Internal Revenue Service targeting of Americans based on their political affiliation.”

Because the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is left to our elected representatives, impeachment is completely different from criminal charges, which the Justice Department declined to bring against anyone in the case of the alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

“Our investigation uncovered substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia,’’ Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said in a letter to Congress. “But poor management is not a crime. We found no evidence that that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution.’’

They may have found no evidence because 422 back-up tapes containing the e-mail correspondence of IRS official Lois Lerner were degaussed (magnetically erased) by IRS employees. The Treasury Department’s inspector general said the destruction of the tapes happened “on or around March 4, 2014, one month after the IRS realized they were missing emails from Lois Lerner, and approximately eight months after the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested ‘all documents and communications sent by, received by or copied to Lois Lerner.’”

Was it a misunderstanding or a successful cover-up?

Consider this: Last year, 47 inspectors general signed a letter protesting that three agencies, including the Justice Department, were obstructing investigations of alleged wrongdoing. Then in July, the Justice Department issued a new policy that blocks IGs from gaining access to certain kinds of evidence, including grand jury and wiretap information, unless they first obtain the permission of the head of the agency they’re investigating.

Nixon was run out of town for less.

If an administration won’t investigate itself, there’s no tool in the toolbox except congressional oversight and, if necessary, impeachment.

The only other check on dishonest government is the ballot box. But first, voters would have to believe that honest government matters.

Comments

  1. RetiredXLR8R says

    “internal inspector general”?
    What about that doesn’t sound right?
    I believe the only way to control government, because human nature has a way of wondering from the path is to have periodic audits of all government offices by a consulting firm in tandem with a Citizen Grand Jury with the charge to discover the best organization, the most efficient operations, and if there is any duplicity in services. Offices would be required to meet the resulting Most Efficient Organization within two years and operate under that plan for an additional five years when they will again be subject to an audit. People, regardless of their values, will over the years, without oversight or “auditing”, start to cut corners, go beyond their mission duplicating another office, pad their office with personnel to increase incomes and stature. Remember the old “Trust but Verify”? Same should apply with government offices.

    • Special Prosecutors, as we have seen in the recent past, become an entity upon themselves, with no external control.
      If an IG is derelict in the performance of his duties, an S-P is a ‘weapon of last resort’…..a Nuclear Option so to speak, that should only be unleashed during the most demanding of circumstances.

  2. Impeachment is a political act taken against political crimes, which abound in this administration.

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