GOP Quotes on Importance of Independent Counsels
As we see the White House over the next several days try and dance away from the outing of Joseph Wilson’s wife, it will be entertaining to see how their GOP allies defend Bush and deny the need for an outside counsel to investigate the matter.
Although the independent counsel statute expired at the end of Clinton’s term, the Attorney General retains the authority under existing statute to farm an investigation out to a special counsel. How likely is it that John Ashcroft will do this? Not likely.
One thing the GOP is great at, these last several years have shown, is the ability to say one thing during the Clinton Administration, and then say another since Bush has been in office. Here are several examples of the typical GOP hypocrisy on the issue of the need for an outside counsel to investigate the executive branch due to even a perceived conflict of interest. As Bush’s defenders over the next several days insist that the Attorney General can investigate this matter without a conflict of interest, keep these comments in mind:
Orrin Hatch, December 3, 1997, on the issue of Janet Reno not appointing an outside Independent Counsel to investigate possible Clinton/Gore fundraising abuses during the 1996 campaign:
Hatch said in his letter that he would not dismiss the argument that Clinton and Gore were, at most, guilty of "technical violations" of the law, which usually are not prosecuted.
"Such discretion may indeed be appropriate, to the extent it has been and would be similarly exercised in other cases," Hatch wrote to Reno. "Given the obvious conflict of interest, however, it should be an independent counsel, and not you, who exercises such discretion."
Henry Hyde, October 4, 1997 on the same issue:
Hyde said in a statement that the preliminary investigation of Gore "represents progress, however slight. Appointment of an independent counsel to investigate both the president and the vice president is inevitable. The longer her delay in doing this, the longer it will take to get answers the American people deserve."
Hyde, October 16, 1997:
"At some point questions must be answered, if only to build confidence that a rigorous investigation is underway and that Justice isn't merely circling the wagons to defend the White House."
Trent Lott, April 15, 1997:
"There is a clear conflict of interest when the attorney general appointed by the president is called upon to investigate possible illegal acts by the vice president or other high-ranking administration officials," Lott said in a statement.
Orrin Hatch, August 4, 1999 on Reno’s refusal to appoint an Independent Counsel in the fundraising cases:
The questions that flow from this Administration’s poor handling of these most serious allegations remind many of us why we so fervently called upon the Attorney General to appoint an independent counsel for these matters over the past years. Faced now with a public perception that this Administration is more interested in protecting itself than in enforcing the country’s campaign finance laws, we cannot help but question the Attorney General’s stubborn refusal on several different occasions to appoint an independent counsel, notwithstanding that the available evidence clearly and credibly raised the possibility of serious crimes by high-level government officials.
Had such an independent counsel appointment been made by the Attorney General, public confidence most assuredly would have been maintained in the handling of these campaign finance cases – no matter the ultimate disposition. This is because an independent counsel would have removed the conflict of interest caused by the participation of the Attorney General in a criminal investigation and prosecution in which she was closely identified with an elected official who was “substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation.”
Orrin Hatch and Henry Hyde, joint letter to Reno, July 24, 1998:
Our concern has been that you, and the Department of Justice generally, face an inescapable political conflict of interest in investigating campaign fundraising violations that may involve senior Administration officials. As you yourself have recognized in testimony before Congress, such a conflict inevitably arises whenever an Attorney General, appointed and removable by the President, is asked to investigate possible wrongdoing by senior Executive Branch officials.
The concern raised by such a conflict, and which motivated enactment of the Independent Counsel Statute, is that the Attorney General may not thoroughly and aggressively seek out the truth when doing so may be embarrassing or damaging to the President and his Administration.
Orrin Hatch, April 30, 1997 hearing with Reno, from the PBS News Hour:
Now, General Reno, you certainly must agree with me that even if there is not an actual conflict of interest, at the very least, all of this presents at least an appearance of conflict of interest.
So for Hatch, the bar was lowered to just the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Orrin Hatch, April 16, 1997 responding to Reno’s failure to appoint an independent counsel:
"An authority higher than me and more independent than the attorney general needs to determine the scope of the various laws implicated by this conduct, and whether any of these laws were violated," "In my opinion, Attorney General Reno was presented with an ethical question – a question ultimately of whether the public can have confidence in this investigation,"
So if the public's confidence in the investigations of Clinton years ago was so important, shouldn't the public's confidence be just as important now?