A disgruntled Justice Department attorney turned conservative blogger writes an unsubstantiated post, and suddenly taxpayers have to pay for a massive, two and a half year long investigation in order to placate Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA). At least, that’s one of the biggest takeaways from a more than 250 page report released by the Justice Department’s Inspector General yesterday. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent the Inspector General’s (IG) office on similar goose chases. Neither one of them achieved more than wasted time and money.
An entire chapter of the report stems from a blog post written by J. Christian Adams, a conservative activist hired to work in Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Bush Administration as part of efforts to stack the department with conservative hires. Adams left DOJ, and later went on to represent Tea Party Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).
In his post, Adams claims that the division “provided preferential treatment when responding to records requests from civil rights groups or individuals alleged to support ‘liberal’ issues in comparison to requests from Republicans or individuals or organizations alleged to support ‘conservative’ issues,” and the IG spends nearly 30 pages investigating these allegations due to a request from Rep. Wolf. Their conclusion: “Our review did not find any substantiation of ideological favoritism or political interference” in responding to requests for information.
Wolf also joined with Rep. Smith to demand a second investigation into whether the Department behaved improperly in dismissing voter intimidation claims against members of the New Black Panthers Party (NBPP) — a common conspiracy theory touted by Fox News and others on the far right. Despite the fact that an investigation by DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility already concluded that Justice Department attorneys “acted appropriately in the exercise of their supervisory duties in connection with the dismissal of the three defendants in the NBPP case,” the IG’s report spends 28 pages reexamining this well-trodden ground. Its conclusion: “we did not find evidence to conclude that the political appointees approved the decision” to dismiss most of the allegations against the NBPP “for improper partisan or racial considerations.”
Sen. Grassley, for his part, demanded an investigation into whether Obama Administration officials engaged in politicized hiring, the IG concludes that hiring decisions were based on entirely appropriate considerations, such as “litigation experience involving voting rights” or “a high degree of academic and professional achievement.” By the end of the report — which also examines DOJ’s conduct during the Bush Administration and comes to far less benign conclusions — the reader is so sick of reading words like “did not find any substantiation” or “no evidence of” applied to allegations against the Obama Justice Department, that the whole report begins to blur together. A few reporters have jumped on a finding that Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez was unaware of who within the Department handled certain parts of the NBPP case when he testified before a Republican-led probe into that matter. But if that’s the worst thing the IG’s office can find during a more than two year long investigation, Perez must have been doing a pretty good job.
So the Civil Rights Division’s current leadership emerges from this investigation largely unscathed, and the three members of Congress that drove much of its content look like petty and credulous. But there is another, more important problem that emerges from this report.
A 250 page report examining years of Justice Department efforts is not something that can be produced overnight. Or over a month. Or over a few months. Literally thousands of hours of work must have gone into this investigation, much of it by attorneys and other professional staff who aren’t exactly cheap to hire — and that’s just counting the people in the IG’s office who conducted the report.
In the course of this investigation, the IG’s office “conducted more than 135 interviews with more than 80 individuals currently or previously employed by the Department,” including interviews with “Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, former Associate Deputy Attorney General (and current Solicitor General) Donald Verrilli, Counsel to the Attorney General Aaron Lewis, Deputy Associate Attorney General Samuel Hirsch, and Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, and former Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King.” All of these well-compensated officials had to stop working on their real jobs in order to accommodate this investigation, not to mention the time they and their staffs spent preparing for those interviews, or the opportunity costs that resulted from this investigation. No administration is perfect and it is likely that there are legitimate concerns that the IG can and should have investigated these past two years, rather than getting bogged down in doubtful partisan allegations.
At a time when House Republicans claim we must slash food stamps and strip health care from millions of Americans in order to reduce the nation’s deficit, it is impossible to justify the expense of paying those officials of all of that work-time in order to accommodate this wild goose chase.