The Department of Justice has been asked by the CIA to investigate Senate staffers, by the Senate to investigate the CIA, and by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to investigate the IRS. The DOJ has replied "maybe," "maybe," and "no," respectively.
Cruz had asked Justice to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether or not the IRS had illegally targeted conservative groups when it began filtering tax-exempt applicants by key words. The segregation of Tea Party and other conservative groups has spurred a nearly year-long crusade by conservative politicians and activists searching for a link back to the White House. With no smoking gun apparent, Cruz — who we must by law point out is likely to run for president in 2016 — asked Justice to escalate the investigation. As Politico reports, the Department of Justice responded to Cruz in a letter, indicating that the ability to appoint special prosecutors "has rarely been exercised," and that an existing investigation of the IRS — using "career prosecutors and law enforcement professionals" — was just fine.
There was no downside to Cruz asking. If he gets a special prosecutor, he is a hero to the conservatives that he hopes will come out and vote in the 2016 primaries. Now that his request has been rejected, he can criticize the Obama White House for not acting — making him a hero to the conservatives that he hopes etc. etc. He's already begun doing so, calling the decision the "height of hypocrisy."
The CIA vs. Senate battle is much trickier. During her unusual floor speech last week, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein revealed that she suspected the CIA of having violated the Constitution by surveilling Senate staffers preparing a report on the agency's history of torture. She also accused the CIA of trying to intimidate her staff by asking the Justice Department to investigate whether or not the staffers broke the law by removing confidential documents from a secure area.
The New York Times reports that Justice is taking its time in figuring out how to proceed. "[A]ccording to department officials," it reports, the department "has little enthusiasm for wading into the middle of a politically charged battle that has raised constitutional issues about the separation of powers and the scope of congressional oversight." During a press conference, Attorney General Eric Holder downplayed how much had been done: "At this point I’d say that’s all we’re doing: looking at the referrals." Some lawmakers have requested that an independent investigator be appointed, given that Justice is part of the executive branch (led by the White House, which itself has demonstrated loyalty to the CIA).
The Department of Justice is probably also not eager to stir up too much controversy at this point given that midterm elections are looming. Not that a slow pace will keep critics of the department from offering critiques.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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