A presidential administration is accused of large-scale, widespread misconduct that not only targeted political enemies but also arguably helped that administration win re-election.
The administration – about to face the shame of a public inspector general report – admits wrongdoing, expresses outrage, and pledges to get to the bottom of the scandal, even promising a criminal investigation.
Amongst the dozens of qualified attorneys within the Department of Justice, who should conduct that investigation? A person with no known political leanings, or an open partisan -- a large donor to the president?
The most basic common sense tells us that a partisan should not accept the job, that public confidence can only be restored through neutral investigators. Yet in this administration, common sense fails.
This week, it emerged that the lead Department of Justice attorney in charge of the IRS Tea Party targeting scandal is a large donor to both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns, with her first donation dating back to the primary season in 2008.
All told, this Obama partisan gave $6,750 to President Obama’s campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and the Obama Victory Fund.
To put that amount in perspective, according to the Center for Responsive Politics less than one-half of one percent of Americans give more than $200 to a federal candidate. This attorney gave more in two cycles than the vast majority of Americans will give in their entire lifetimes.
The Obama administration is stonewalling congressional investigators, turning over only a small percentage of relevant documents. It’s also attempting to escape any accountability to the actual groups the IRS harmed.
At the ACLJ we filed suit against the IRS and key IRS officials on behalf of 41 conservative groups in 22 states – groups that faced prolonged IRS harassment, including harassment that suppressed their vital issue advocacy in the 2012 election season.
This harassment was so severe and pervasive that it very well my have influenced the outcome of the election itself, by blunting the Tea Party’s “ground game” that brought millions of voters to the polls in 2010.
The administration has responded to our lawsuit with a comprehensive motion to dismiss, seeking to evade any legal responsibility for its admitted wrongdoing.
Even worse, the conduct of the criminal investigation has hardly been comforting.
After more than seven months since the targeting scheme was revealed, the DOJ has done very little to move this investigation forward. It has even stonewalled Congress, recently rescinding an offer to provide Congress an in-person briefing about the investigation’s progress.
That is not conduct that builds confidence. It’s the kind of thing that happens when the Obama administration investigates itself with one of its biggest fans in charge of the investigation.
After first apologizing, the IRS is circling the wagons.
After first expressing outrage, the Obama administration now calls years of targeting political opponents a “phony scandal,” and the president himself made light of it on MSNBC.
Yet the only thing phony about the Tea Party scandal is the Administration’s response.
Fortunately, when it comes to the criminal investigation, there is a simple resolution: Obama donors should step down from investigating wrongdoing that could have materially helped the president’s re-election.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the DOJ should screen its job applicants for political affiliation. I’m suggesting that admitted partisans should voluntarily decline the “opportunity” to investigate their political favorites and should step down if they’ve made the mistake of accepting the task in the first place.
Public trust is a delicate thing, especially when a scandal goes to the heart of our government’s integrity and our confidence in the political process. The stakes are too high, and the need for neutrality too great, to leave investigations to the partisans.
As I said, this is common sense. But it’s more than common sense. For partisans, stepping away from this investigation is fair, it’s right, and it’s the only responsible choice.
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He also serves as a member of President Trump’s legal team. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.