Sen. John Ensign (R-NV). Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA). Former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX). Rep. Don Young (R-AK). Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV). What do all these politicians have in common? Despite being embroiled in scandal, all have announced in the past year that the Justice Department wouldn’t be pursuing charges against them.
That has put DOJ in the crosshairs of good government groups, who say they’ve appeared weak by shutting down high-profile investigations of members of Congress.
“Exactly what will a politician have to do for the Department of Justice to sit up and take notice?” Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said this month. “The department might as well disband the Public Integrity Section for all the good it does.”
But in interviews with the New York Times, the head of the Public Integrity Unit and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division defended the work of federal prosecutors.
“It’s just not the case that anyone is gun-shy,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer told the NYT’s Charlie Savage. “If a case cannot be brought, it’s because we’ve taken a hard look and made the determination that this case cannot be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. And with all due respect to those outside the department, they haven’t seen the evidence. They don’t know the materials, and we’ve looked at it all.”
“Conduct that people think is reprehensible or immoral doesn’t mean it’s criminal,” Breuer said. “If there is a criminal case to bring, we’ll bring it. If there isn’t one to be brought — no matter if we like the conduct or don’t like the conduct, like the people or don’t like the people — we won’t bring it.”
“I understand why the question is asked,” said Jack Smith, who took over the Public Integrity Section six months ago. “But if I were the sort of person who could be cowed — ‘I know we should bring this case, I know the person did it, but we could lose, and that will look bad,’ I would find another line of work. I can’t imagine how someone who does what I do or has worked with me could think that.”