The Justice Department’s watchdog says the nation’s top law enforcement division must do a lot more to restore the public’s faith and dispel the belief among a growing number of Americans that it is a political organization rather than a non-partisan arbiter of cases.
The DOJ “has squandered public trust by straying from its own policies designed to avoid the appearance of political bias and meddling and by permitting some employees to escape accountability for misconduct by leaving the department before investigations were complete, the agency’s chief watchdog is warning,” Just the News reported Thursday, citing the findings of the department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz.
His office’s criticism of the department comes amid blowback from the public and lawmakers for failures related to the so-called “Trump-Russia collusion” counterterrorism investigation, which has been discredited, as well as the discovery that Attorney General Merrick Garland has tasked the FBI and all 93 U.S. attorneys with assisting in the investigation of parents who complain to school boards about the curriculum being taught to their kids.
Also, the findings come after the FBI raided the homes of Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe and two of his associates, which alarmed even left-leaning civil libertarians.
“The Department faces a challenge in addressing public perception about its objectivity and insulation from political influence,” Horowitz noted in the report, going on to cite recent polling data indicating a growing number of Americans believe the department has become politicized.
“The Department’s efficacy as the guardian of the rule of law depends on maintaining the public trust in its integrity, impartiality, and ability to effectively administer justice,” Horowitz added.
Just The News adds:
The watchdog cited several recent IG investigations that found the James Comey-era FBI misled the FISA court in the Russia case and wrongly usurped prosecutors’ powers by declining prosecution in the Hillary Clinton email probe. He also noted more recent failures, including continuing FISA warrant problems, a bungled sex abuse case involving female Olympians, and reports the department faced pressure to investigate allegations of fraud and misconduct in the 2020 election.
In many instances, rules and policies in those cases weren’t followed, to the detriment of the department’s reputation and public trust, he noted.
“One important strategy that can build public trust in the Department is to ensure adherence to policies and procedures designed to protect DOJ from accusations of political influence or partial application of the law,” Horowitz noted in the report.
To that end, Horowitz went on to say that the public’s trust has been devastated in large part by the department’s failure to discipline culpable officials and instead allow them to retire before final determinations are made and cases are simply closed without any actions being taken.
“Accountability is particularly challenging in instances where the Department employee retires or resigns before allegations of misconduct can be fully adjudicated,” Horowitz wrote, pointing out that 10 percent of the department’s misconduct cases that were pending before the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility in the years 2017 and 2018 were closed after the staffer resigned or retired.
“We concluded that this FBI practice adversely impacted the FBI’s ability to hold employees accountable for their misconduct, was unfair to employees wrongly accused, and wasted OIG and FBI resources,” Horowitz wrote.
“Adjudicating all cases to conclusion, as recommended by the OIG, will ensure that employees who choose to leave the FBI while under investigation cannot escape a finding of misconduct that could affect potential future employment and other benefits,” he added.
“Another means of strengthening confidence in the Department is ensuring that attorney professional misconduct matters are handled no differently than misconduct allegations made against law enforcement agents or other DOJ employees,” the IG wrote.
“Currently the Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, a DOJ component that lacks the same statutory independence and protections as the OIG, has exclusive jurisdiction over allegations of misconduct by Department lawyers that relate to an attorney’s responsibility to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice,” he said.
“Independent oversight of Department lawyers is a step towards broader accountability and improved public trust in the Department.”
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