My View: Ben Ghazi, IRS, Bridgegate, witch hunting or low standards in prosecution?
May 22, 2014
Gov. Chris Christie's Bridgegate, Benghazi and IRS House hearings have much in common. They raise the issue of whether hearings and investigations are motivated by sincere and fair truth finding or are witch hunting to make a political point. If it is not witch hunting, to say the least they represent low prosecutorial standards.
The chairman of the select committee to investigate Benghazi, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) stated on a recent cable talk show that he was a former prosecutor and he knew what was fair; therefore he would run the hearings fairly. That is not reassuring.
There are three motivations for prosecution. One is to seek the truth or another to accomplish some civic good. The other is to make a political point. In Benghazi, the only motivation stated by the chair is to find out whether there was a cover up or lies, with evidence after eight hearings and pages of documentation without firm evidence of a smoking gun to pin a cover up on the president or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A recently released administration memo was general commentary of unrest in the Arab Spring, not specific to Benghazi.
Prosecutor Gowdy seems out to justify GOP suspicions of the existence of a smoking gun held by either the president or Clinton, but not to see whether funds or methods to increase protection of State Department personnel need to be or have been beefed up . That at minimum smells of political witch hunting.
I spent over six years heading the Denver district attorney's unit investigating complaints from the public regarding white collar and consumer crimes. If anything, I gained a healthy respect for those who took fairness in prosecution seriously. The late Dale Tooley, for whom I worked, was a Denver district attorney who did not hunt witches. He refused to go forward with prosecutions that not only did not have tangible evidence of probable cause to believe a crime was committed, but which also lacked enough evidence to result in a probable conviction. Grand juries, held in secret, were not called on unless there was confidence the grand jury would find probable cause. His standards were high and he did not want to waste taxpayers' money on wild goose chases.
Congressional hearings are similar to grand juries. Both are used to get sworn testimony. Unlike the grand jury system, however, Congressional hearings are open to the public and media and can be abused to make political points and provide grandstanding opportunities for politicians seeking re-election.
In any case, those being accused could seek protection under the 5th Amendment and not have to testify against themselves. That particular right is being violated in Republican-dominated House hearings on whether the director of an Ohio IRS office had gone after right leaning political organizations seeking tax exemptions. The committee wants to send her to jail for taking the 5th.
Charges made by political opponents against Christie also raise questions, though investigations conducted by independent investigators are not yet complete. The potential for abuse, however, is there given his political aspirations to run for president.
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