Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Hypocrisy of John Conyers

A Washington Times editorial on Tuesday reports how Michigan Congressman John Conyers led his House Judiciary Committee’s Democrats to a 15-14 party-line vote against a resolution to demand answers from the Justice Department about the highly politicized decision to unplug their own successful legal action against the New Black Panther Party for flagrant voter intimidation in 2008. (“Caged Panther Investigation”).

The DOJ has been claiming its decision-making process on that one is “privileged,” even from Congress. Mind you, they aren’t even claiming executive privilege, just “privilege.” (The privilege, you can bet, is grounded on a majority of co-Democrats in Congress being too debased to do the right thing. The Times says seven committee Democrats didn’t even have the courage to vote on the resolution at all.)

As the Times editorial points out, there’s a special quality of hypocrisy in what Conyers is doing to protect Eric Holder’s partisan Civil Rights Division:
In assessing claims of legal privileges from the Justice Department and its White House overseers, Mr. Conyers should heed the wisdom of a contrary authority on the subject: himself.

"The Committee clearly has authority under the Constitution to investigate and expose possible violations of law and abuses of executive power," Mr. Conyers wrote in a 22-page memorandum less than two years ago.
Not only did Conyers make that argument in a memo less than two years ago,
he made it even more forcefully just last January when his committee released its majority report on Bush-era policies, “Reining In the Imperial Presidency.”

Conyers’s 487-page report was prepared as the foundation for Conyers’s sole remaining career goal, which is to prove President Bush and Vice President Cheney “are among the most impeachable officials in our Nation’s history.”

Whatever. But for present purposes what’s notable is that two of the alleged Bush-Cheney high crimes Conyers fulminated against were the “politicization of the Department of Justice,” and the misuse of executive privilege.

Conyers (and his obstreperous counterpart in the Senate, Patrick Leahy) hoped to prove the manifestly lawful firings of 8 U.S. Attorneys by Bush’s Attorney General, (their boss), were actually illegal because motivated by political considerations.

Conyers and the Democrats were also scandalized by the DOJ stooping to “selective prosecution.” By way of example, Democrats blamed the decision to indict former Alabama governor Don Siegelman for corruption and obstruction of justice on the improper influence of Karl Rove. (There must have been other reasons as well to indict Siegelman, as a jury was persuaded to convict him on 7 counts).

Conyers rejected Rove’s offer to answer questions less formally, and without going under oath, as the White House was perfectly well aware Conyers was on a fishing expedition. So both Conyers and Leahy subpoenaed Rove. The White House asserted executive privilege, and Rove never appeared. Even without Rove, Conyers and Leahy spent hundreds of hours in televised public hearings with other witnesses trying to use the U.S. Attorney firings to get Bush, Cheney, and Rove. Conyers was equally frustrated when he tried, unsuccessfully, to get Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten in his hearing room stocks.

Decrying this defiance in his January 2009 report Conyers writes:
If Congress wants to maintain its Constitutional role, it needs to stand up for itself. A good place to start is by making clear that its legitimate investigative authority cannot be defied, and any who chooses to do so will pay a heavy price. (Report, 240).
As seen in the Washington Times, Conyers believes valid claims of executive privilege must be personally asserted by the President, in writing. He reiterates this in his majority report where he documents how his committee passed a resolution to hold Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten in contempt for not obeying his subpoena. The grounds for his committee rejecting their claims included that, “despite requests from Chairman Conyers, there was never a directive personally signed by the President asserting executive privilege.” (Report, 239).

Needless to say, Conyers is nowhere near this jealous over Congress’s investigative authority when it’s Obama’s Justice Department that’s telling inquiring lawmakers to “talk to the hand.” As I said, the Justice Department isn’t even claiming executive privilege; rather, they’re instead only “asserting legal privileges that have never been recognized in U.S. history.”

And as for written directives from President Obama asserting executive privilege? : oh, hardy-har-har.

We’ve now seen in this Black Panther case, and in the underwear bomber case, and until recently in the matter of the location for the KSM trial, that Obama imagines he can treat the Justice Department as a fourth branch of government over which he has no control, and better still, one for whose decisions he bears no accountability. Lately, this has become harder for him to maintain.

At the very same time he maintained the reverse policy of delegating to his Attorney General total strategic control over the nation’s counterterrorism policy, while the CIA, Homeland Security, and the National Intelligence Director must settle for being “advised” about critical counterterror decisions already made by the man who put together the Marc Rich pardon.

One of the remedies that Conyers proposed for Bush-era abuses of executive privilege and “selective prosecution,” (which by definition has to include selective failure to prosecute), was to expand the Justice Department Inspector General’s limited jurisdiction. (Report, 273). As it stands now, and has for some time, “charges of political interference with prosecution decisions fall within the jurisdiction of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and may not be investigated by the Department’s Inspector General.”

Conyers even got an amendment passed in the last Congress that “provides that the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General is not required to refer to the Counsel of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) of DOJ, allegations of misconduct involving DOJ attorneys and related personnel where the allegations relate to the exercise of the authority of an attorney to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice.”

Keep in mind that Conyers’s stated concern all this time has been the protection of Congress’s “Constitutional role,” and to curb defiance of “its legitimate investigative authority.”

It so happens right now that the current IG, Glenn Fine, is suffering from the very lack of power that Conyers was trying to fix with his amendment. (The amendment never became law). Fine, (no friend of the Bush administration), just sent a letter to Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, who’s been nagging him to open an investigation into Holder's Civil Rights Division. In his letter, Fine complains that he has no jurisdiction to force the DOJ to cooperate with Congressional inquiries:
The letter from Mr. Fine explained why the IG says he is prohibited by law from reviewing whether the Justice Department or the White House allowed or instigated political interference in a decision to drop or reduce voter-intimidation charges against members of the New Black Panther Party. This means nearly a dozen separate requests from Mr. Wolf, Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, and other legislators for Black Panther-related information can be stonewalled by the Justice Department, as can inquiries and even subpoenas from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In short, the department is saying that it can ignore Congress with impunity.
If Conyers were really making a principled defense of Congressional oversight when he released his sweeping anti-Bush jeremiad last January, then this recent resolution was a golden opportunity to champion those same principles, even while displaying he was capable of rising above partisan loyalties. Hah! Conyers only shrugged his shoulders and went over to stand with the other team.

I’m no expert on executive privilege, and I wouldn’t risk a guess that there’s no possible justification for why the Justice Department Inspector General has less jurisdiction than the IGs in other departments. Those questions deserve discussion, but they aren’t the point.

The point is that, so long as the political loser was meant to be George W. Bush, Conyers spared none of his considerable self-righteousness denouncing executive branch resistance to Congressional inquiries. And we can see that now, when it’s President Obama who’s politicizing the Justice Department, and it’s Eric Holder engaging in selective prosecution, Conyers will go 180 out from his convictions to block Congressional oversight and protect the DOJ.

Hypocrisy that stinks this bad needs an uglier name.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did you notice that they spelled the Army core of Engineers wrong?
It should be Army Corp of Engineers.