Does loyalty hold more weight than integrity? It seems as though it would depend on whose perspective into which we are inquiring. When it comes to law enforcement, we place great demands on integrity being an integral factor in how law enforcement officials carry out their duties. The United States Department of Justice, although operating under the authority of the executive branch, is supposed to function as a neutral entity that is independent of partisan bias. However, with continual bouts of interference from the executive branch, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain this neutrality.
Taking a retrospective stance, we all witnessed the highly publicized rebuke of Attorney General Jeff Sessions by President Donald Trump last year. President Trump’s attack stemmed from Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from overseeing the Russian investigation in March 2017. Unfortunately, the Attorney General and the Justice Department has remained on the receiving end of President Trump’s Twitter attacks since then. This is inclusive of leading up to this week’s comments by the President on the Attorney General’s decision to assign the Inspector General to investigate allegations of potential abuse of FISA standards (Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978) at the beginning of the Russian probe. This leads us to ask, “What did Atty. General Sessions do wrong?”
Well, some Republicans have insisted that some there was some wrongdoing concerning possible surveillance abuses by the FBI as listed in the GOP memo that was written earlier this year in January and declassified by the President at the beginning of February. Despite concerns over the release of the memo, President Trump authorized its release anyway. Soonafter, the Democrats submitted a rebuttal to the GOP memo, which the President directed the FBI and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee to review the response for classified information that required redaction. In the wake of the provided information, this week, Sessions made an announcement that the Office of the Inspector General would be investigating the matter further to determine whether the FBI violated any laws to obtain a warrant authorizing the surveillance of a former Trump campaign associate.
In response, President Trump tweeted this morning,
“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse? Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy?“Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”
Sessions released a statement soonafter stating,
“We have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this Department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary. As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”
In response to the question asked above, Sessions was following standard protocol for internal reviews at the Justice Department, according to Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department Inspector General. Bromwich stated,
“Allegations of wrongdoing by Justice Department personnel are generally first referred to the inspector general for review, because that office reports both to Congress and to the department, giving it a degree of independence that the rest of the agency doesn’t have.”
This degree of independence is granted for the purposes of maintaining a level of integrity which would allow the Justice Department to enforce the rules of law without prejudice. However, when an official is asked (or directed) to violate the Constitutional rights and laws of the country, it diminishes the public’s faith in the justice system. If justice is not meted out in a fair and impartial manner, then the values and principles of the American justice system become null and void and the laws of the land become meaningless.
Sessions response to President Trump demonstrates that integrity has to be one of the most integral attributes of individuals working in the Justice Department. Regardless of any potential retribution from the White House. Being the President of the United States does not grant any individual the right to demand that the American people be given a tainted brand of justice. The American people have been presented with “alternative facts” for too long and it is time for someone in Washington to stand up and execute their duties with integrity. While Sessions may or may have been a Trump supporter, it is obvious that it was never at the price of sacrificing his principles and integrity.
Sean Mungin, author of “The Thorn In The Flesh”