ICYMI: A Second Special Counsel Would Boost the DOJ’s Credibility
WASHINGTON—This op ed by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) first appeared in RealClearPolicy on December 5, 2017.
Recently, the House Judiciary Committee conducted an oversight hearing of the Department of Justice (DOJ) that allowed representatives from both parties to question Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In response, some have asserted that appointing a second special counsel to investigate decisions made by the DOJ in 2016 would be a partisan maneuver, damaging the independence of the Department.
I too am concerned about preserving the independence of the Justice Department — which is precisely why Judiciary Committee Republicans have called for a special counsel to investigate matters outside the scope of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The Judiciary Committee’s letters have been belittled as “a laundry list of Republican grievances about Clinton and former FBI director James B. Comey.” But they document persistent and unanswered questions about the independence of the DOJ, and specifically whether it may have been compromised under the Obama administration. These letters are themselves tools of oversight to be used on behalf of the millions of Americans whose democratic government owes them answers.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s independent e-mail server warranted a DOJ investigation, even if former Attorney General Loretta Lynch provided one in name only. (Actually, she failed to deliver even that, instructing former FBI Director James Comey to call the investigation a “matter.”) Americans are well-stocked with outstanding questions about how the DOJ handled these issues, and the specter of favoritism still looms over the Obama DOJ. The possibility that the department made decisions to aid a political candidate is a potential threat to democracy — one that deserves a DOJ investigation today just as it did in 2016.
At the same time, I recognize that some of my friends across the aisle lack confidence that a Republican-appointed DOJ would conduct such an investigation impartially. Hearing those concerns, I submit that a second special counsel offers Americans the opportunity to pursue answers to these questions without even the appearance of partisan impropriety. After all, independent counsels are like dentists: They scare everyone who hasn’t flossed.
Concerns about DOJ investigations and appointing special counsels too often come to us frosted in hyper-partisan language. This obscures the crux of the liberal argument against the move: Neither the DOJ under Attorney General Jeff Sessions nor an independent special counsel is capable of investigating Clinton. According to this logic, there exists no credible path for investigating potential favoritism on the part of America’s chief law enforcement officials. It would follow that the world’s strongest democracy is impotent when it comes to pursuing objective, unfettered, non-partisan accountability of its own federal agencies.
As a member of the committee charged with exercising oversight of the entire Department of Justice and the representative of approximately 700,000 Georgian voices, I have a bit more faith in the checks and balances that undergird our justice system — including the utility of the special counsel position.
Party loyalty aside, the DOJ made many decisions last year that have led to a host of unresolved questions, and the American people deserve answers. For example, why did former Attorney General Lynch direct former FBI Director Comey to mislead the American people on the nature of the Clinton investigation? Why did Mr. Comey prepare a statement ending the investigation into former Secretary Clinton before interviewing 17 key witnesses, including the former secretary herself?
These and other questions about the independence of the DOJ continue to cast a shadow on our nation’s justice system. By addressing them directly, a second special counsel could strengthen the DOJ’s credibility, reestablishing its reputation as a non-partisan agent of justice.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) is Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference and a member of the House Judiciary Committee.