Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 31, 2003
POLITICS: Inspector General
Good to see that Ashcroft has recused himself and put a professional prosecutor at the head of the Valerie Plame leak investigation. I don't personally know Patrick Fitzgerald, the US Attorney for Chicago, but I know him by reputation and know people who know him; he's a career prosecutor who made his name with the first World Trade Center bombing cases (among other things, I believe he was the lead prosecutor on the trial of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman); I'm sure he'll be thorough and dogged, but unlike outside prosecutors (i.e., Independent Counsels), he has other things to do and won't spin this into an endless investigation if more pressing matters need the resources. A good call.
I still maintain that the best way to handle politically charged investigations would be to create a separate department of an Inspector General. Such a department could be built around the current Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice, which has a perenially full caseload with corruption in state and local governments, contracting, police corruption, etc., and thus would not be like an Independent Counsel, tempted to blow one investigation out of proportion. But the head of the department could be someone less political than the Attorney General (whose role in law enforcement, Supreme Court litigation and sometimes judicial selection makes him or her an inevitably controversial figure) and selected specifically for the trait of bipartisan respect. Once selected and nominated, an IG would be nearly impossible to fire over a single investigation in the absence of obvious abuse. And you could also consolidate the civil IG offices of various executive departments, which can be prone to the same problems as IC offices, thus avoiding the usual trap of new departments that duplicate existing ones.
And pay for the savings by abolishing the Commerce Department. Everyone wins!