Jeff Sessions Needs To Do More Than Just Fire Obama-Era Government Attorneys

Jeff Sessions Needs To Do More Than Just Fire Obama-Era Government Attorneys

Obama ‘abus[ed] the Department of Justice to bankrupt, harass, and punish many of Obama's political opponents,’ says target Steve Stockman. These abuses rival the Wisconsin John Doe dragnet.
Benjamin Wetmore
By

Part of Barack Obama’s legacy is his ability to steamroll his opposition. To many that power seemed to be rooted in his appeal to the media, which fawned over him despite his mistakes. Instead of negotiating with Republicans, he was typically able to cut through their meek opposition. The unseating of former House Speaker John Boehner was due, at least in part, to his inability to resist the administration during the debt hike crises.

Obama won those fights, and the media treated him like a sacred object of veneration. Yet it still does not explain why he prevailed against a caucus of congressmen who were not living within media markets or receptive to the kind of pressure the administration could exert. Indeed, if anything, the 2010 election results and anti-Obama sentiment should have made Republican resistance firmer, but instead it was shallow and weak.

Former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) says this is partly because “the administration was abusing the Department of Justice to bankrupt, harass, and punish many of Obama’s political opponents.” At one point, Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) was actively investigating one-third of GOP governors. The Office of Congressional Ethics “investigated” 30 GOP congressmen, then DOJ investigated at least a dozen. Some familiar names were pushed out of office during this process that was costly, grueling, accusatory, and fraught with personal and professional peril.

A Cruel Form of Lawfare

The process was a quiet killer. A wildly inaccurate local news story would become the basis for an anonymous complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics, or OCE, which was set up by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and is staffed by former federal prosecutors who then investigated, continually broadening the scope of their investigation. Those who cooperate give information that could justify witch hunts, and those who refuse are eventually bankrupted by legal fees.

This package of information is then referred to DOJ, which starts a completely new investigation into unrelated information, using the evidence OCE collected. Every email, phone call, campaign donation, and piece of data could be used to subpoena, harass, and intimidate donors, family members, and even the attorneys of members of Congress.

I know, because I was one of the attorneys swept into this dragnet of abuse. I received a subpoena that asked for 6.5 years of all documents related to 27 different entities and clients, including all emails, and even commanding me to recollect every conversation and word uttered in private, in confidence, across these years and entities. The subpoena covered things spoken to a legal client by his or her attorney.

One might naively think courts would refuse to sanction such abuses. One would be wrong. Populated by former prosecutors and obsequious to federal authority in ways that would make Stalin blush, judges often sign whatever is put in front of them. They defer to whatever rabbit hole prosecutors want to go down, and appellate courts reject appeals faster than it takes to even read your brief and arguments. It’s not justice, it’s “just us.”

Using the Justice System to Undermine Political Enemies

This abuse brought enormous pressure upon congressmen who dared to defy the Obama administration. Up and coming party leaders were clearly targeted. Governors who were potential national leaders were neutered. Conservatives were the target, and whatever institutions we think might stand up and protect the right to dissent were notably silent.

The advice most of these people received, it’s also worth noting, was from federal criminal defense attorneys who are usually former federal prosecutors. The entire judicial system is composed to an overwhelming extent by people who were cultivated in a prosecution mindset. So they think everyone is guilty of everything, and your rights and privileges under the Constitution are inconvenient impediments to their work.

The legal process is often its own punishment, and the prosecutors clearly know it. They win either way. Subpoenas can go out to donors, friends, staffers, and campaign volunteers, and it sends a powerful message even if a defendant prevails. Prosecutors can make these “investigations” drag on for years. One federal lawyer described it as a “gigantic Inquisition machine.” Just on campaign finance issues alone, prosecutions could last years since few who fill out such forms fully understand them, the accounting terms used, and the legal consequences of small mistakes.

This led to such paranoia among people who were law-abiding and innocent that I saw businessmen offer to confess to things they didn’t do. I spoke with grown men who broke down in tears at trying to comply with abusive subpoenas, people too poor to afford an hour of attorney’s time while detained by the FBI and brought in to explain themselves to multiple DOJ attorneys over a single line in a single email from four years previous. The process was months, and in some cases years, of emotional and psychological abuse about entirely trivial matters, such as one form filled out wrong or one donation. There was no perspective, proportion, or sanity from federal authorities.

If You Don’t Like It, You Can Resign

During the investigation I was involved with personally, you could see on the faces of the FBI agents assigned to pursue these political vendettas that they’d rather be doing anything else. They knew what was going on and didn’t support it, but still did what they were told in the best imitation possible of James Comey. On the faces of the Justice lawyers was nothing but coldness and cynicism worthy of ambitious little Soviets.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was brought up on silly federal issues related to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has suffered for years about three days of lane closures. Virginia’s former governor Bob McDonnell set Supreme Court precedent because he received gifts from someone for whom he did nothing special in return. Michele Bachmann retired from Congress; perhaps it was tied to the years of Obama investigations she suffered. Rep. Robert Pittinger was targeted, and so were staffers for Sen. Rand Paul, Georgia’s Paul Broun, Stockman, and many others.

The elected leaders were also often forced to raise funds for their legal defense in a separate committee from donors, still subject to campaign finance contribution limits. It’s a system that rewards the rich, and forces leaders with modest means to risk it all to prove their innocence. So no wonder many would rather resign, or at least fall into line under threat of investigation.

The scope of this abuse is daunting, and represents a distinct legacy of the Obama years that indicts not just the federal prosecutors, who should be imprisoned for what they’ve done, but includes a judiciary that signed off on it, and a media infrastructure that went out of its way to avoid covering it. I offered the story to several mainstream outlets, only to see their interest wane when the subjects were named.

Let the Counter-Prosecutions Begin

New U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said recently that he’s open to having an outside prosecutor look into certain known abuses of the Obama Justice Department, including giving guns to Mexican drug cartels as part of Fast and Furious, and the well-known Internal Revenue Service intimidation of conservative groups. But many more scandals have been unreported, and are often hidden behind the silence of defendants who did nothing wrong but worry about the presumption of guilt that comes with complaining about such outrage.

Conservatives in Congress who stood their ground and spoke truth to power during the dark years of the Obama administration and its reign of terror deserve our gratitude and respect. The best way to demonstrate that respect is if the decision-makers and federal prosecutors who pursued these political cases are brought into the light, and those who broke the law and violated the Constitution are brought to justice and imprisoned.

If Sessions needs a list of whom within DOJ to start investigating, I’ve got one, as do dozens of current and former conservative congressmen. There’s a lot more internal corruption at Justice than what is already known.

Benjamin Wetmore is an attorney.

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