COLORADO SPRINGS, August 23, 2016 – Hillary Clinton’s latest scandal, “Pay to Play,” whereby donors to the Clinton Global Initiative received access to the U.S. Secretary of State by donating to her family’s charity, is but the latest government corruption scandal to come to light.
With congressional inquiries, Freedom of Information requests, and a steady drumbeat of computer hacking revelations, media attention is zeroing in on her foundation and the secretary’s role in linking State Department access to those persons or state players who were willing to open their wallets to the foundation.
Mid-way through the scandal the FBI’s investigation of the matter, while damning, ended in a recommendation to the U.S. Justice Department not to prosecute Clinton.
The timing of Lynch’s decision to accept her FBI’s recommendation not to indict caught many Americans in stunned amazement. If perception is reality, the optics of the weeks certainly raised questions about the impartiality of President Obama’s FBI director.
To be sure, political pressure on FBI Director James Comey and attorney general Lynch was intense; the target of their investigation was no ordinary scofflaw, but a woman vying to be President of the United States.
Observers have speculated that neither official wished to indict her and potentially be responsible for throwing a land-mark national election.
But if these officials flinched due to the high stakes of the case, what does that tell us about the state of the law in America today? Are we all in fact equal under the law, or are some more equal than others?
The answers to those questions must lie in the very nature of the Department of Justice itself.
Leaders, some better than others, come and go. But the law, well and truly upheld, presumably remains as the people’s defense against tyranny and injustice in a country that prides itself on fairness.
The Department of Justice is our most visible and powerful symbol of law and order in the country and exists:
“To enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law; to ensure public safety against threats foreign and domestic; to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime; to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior; and to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”
The Office of the Attorney General was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789 as a one-person part-time position. By 1870, after the end of the Civil War, the increase in the amount of litigation involving the United States required the retention of a large number of attorneys to handle the workload.
Congress passed the Act to Establish the Department of Justice creating ‘an executive department of the government of the United States’ with the Attorney General at its head.
The attorney general holds the power to represent the U.S. government in all legal matters. The attorney general, nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, has no designated term; the president may remove him or her from the office at any time.
The attorney general can be impeached and tried by Congress if deemed necessary.
Human nature being what it is, the concept of “Pay to Play,” an allegation in the most recent Clinton affair, has been in existence perhaps as long as the world’s oldest profession. Not regaled only to political circles, the cost to Americans for political pay to play is most harmful.
During the 1980s, entertainment venue owners charged an up-front fee to performing artists for the use of their facilities. And bands and record labels paid radio stations to place their songs into heavy rotation. In stand-up comedy, performers sometimes paid promoters to be allowed to perform.
In politics, typically the payer (an individual, business, or organization) makes campaign contributions to public officials, party officials, or parties themselves, and receives political or monetary benefits such as no-bid government contracts, influence over legislation, political appointments or nominations, special access or other favors.
Significantly, the contributions also may be paid to nonprofit or institutional entities, like the Clinton Global Foundation, or may take the form of some benefit to a third party, such as a family member of a government official.
Recalling another Clinton family member, Chelsea Clinton, who reportedly was paid six-hundred thousand dollars to serve as a rookie network news correspondent for NBC with no news experience. Other first-year network correspondents make between $100,000 and $200,000. In one of her pieces, she interviewed the Geico gecko, asking the little creature, “Now gecko, do people recognize you on the street?” And, “Is there a downside to all this fame?”
Was Miss Clinton paid for her degree in broadcast journalism and political science? Or her name and her parents?
Over the years, many pay to play practices have come under scrutiny by both the federal government and a number of states. In Illinois, for instance, federal prosecutors in 2006 investigated pay to play allegations surrounding Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
He and a staffer attempted to “sell” the vacated U.S. Senate seat of then-president elect Barack Obama.
In 2015 U.S. Sen. Harry Reid was placed under investigation by a Utah county prosecutor in connection with an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving two former Utah attorneys general.
Decisions made by the State or Federal attorneys general to often originate from party loyalty. And sometimes they are too partisan for DOJ employees to tolerate leading to “whistleblowers” and very public protests, in the form of resigning their positions.
During the Obama Administration, J. Christian Adams, a Justice Department attorney, quit his job after then Attorney General Eric Holder chose to drop charges in what, to him, was a clear case of voter intimidation by the New Black Panthers Party.
Adams accused the attorney general of making his decision based on race.
“There is a pervasive hostility within the civil rights division at the Justice Department toward these sorts of cases,” Adams told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. Adams said the AG’s dismissal of the case was a symptom of the Obama administration’s reverse racism and that the Justice Department would not pursue voting rights cases against white victims.
Resignations during the Nixon Administration’s Watergate scandal took on far more serious repercussions. At the height of the Watergate scandal that involved the president and led to his eventual resignation, his then-Attorney General Eliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned over a presidential dismissal of independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox.
The “Saturday Night Massacre” got rolling when a subpoena issued by prosecutor Cox to President Nixon requested taped conversations, that Nixon had authorized, recorded in the Oval Office. Cox refused a presidentially offered compromise and it was believed that there would be a short rest in the legal maneuvering while government offices were closed for the weekend.
But the next day (Saturday,) Nixon ordered Attorney General Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused and resigned in protest. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. He also refused and resigned.
The U.S. Attorney General sits atop a chain of justice governing one of the world’s leading democracies. The implementation of justice, even over their own presidents’ protests rests with them and them alone. When they deem the president’s requests to contravene the rule of law and their own promise to uphold the law, they can resign in protest or toe the party line, even when against the best interests of Americans or to obfuscate the crime.
The Nixon era, riddled as it was with scandals and breaking news about a president playing fast and loose with the law, served the nation to instruct us there always are options available in securing the nation’s laws. As with the “Saturday Night Massacre,” one of those options is less than pleasant and can rock the country to its very core.
As we weather another rocky era, with revelations breaking about possible political scandals at the highest levels of our government, we must recall that whether or not justice breaks for or against the former secretary of state, the importance of it all is not Hillary Clinton’s ability or inability to achieve her dream of being the first American woman president.
What is important, is the republic: our country’s health, the robustness of our institutions and the steadiness of our rule of law.
Politicians come and go. But the rule of law must remain as a strong bulwark to defend the United States of America in all seasons and come what may.