Why Jus­tice Dept. is free of pres­i­dent

In­ter­fer­ence could taint in­ves­ti­ga­tions

Baltimore Sun - - NATION - By Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON — The rev­e­la­tion that Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump­does not in­tend to seek a new in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Hil­lary Clin­ton was star­tling not only be­cause it seemed to re­verse a cam­paign pledge.

It also sug­gested Trump might think that it’s his de­ci­sion to make, re­flect­ing an ap­par­ent lack of re­gard for the in­de­pen­dence of the Jus­tice De­part­ment, which is re­spon­si­ble for con­duct­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions with­out the in­flu­ence or opin­ion of the White House.

Trump on Tues­day told re­porters and ed­i­tors of The New York Times: “I don’t want to hurt the Clin­tons; I re­ally don’t,” de­spite hav­ing said dur­ing the cam­paign that he’d seek a spe­cial prose­cu­tor to in­ves­ti­gate Clin­ton and that she’d be in jail if he were elected.

Some ques­tions and an­swers about how the White House and Jus­tice De­part­ment in­ter­act — and how the sys­tem works:

Q: Do pres­i­dents over­see in­ves­ti­ga­tions of the Jus­tice De­part­ment? A: Def­i­nitely not. Long-stand­ing pro­to­col dic­tates that the FBI and Jus­tice De­part­ment op­er­ate free of po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence or med­dling from the White House. That’s one rea­son that the FBI di­rec­tor serves a 10-year term and does not turn over the reins as pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions come and go. It also means that pres­i­dents are not sup­posed to su­per­vise, ini­ti­ate or stop law en­force­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

White House of­fi­cials and Jus­tice De­part­ment lawyers aren’t even meant to talk with each other about on­go­ing crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions or civil en­force­ment ac­tions, though there is lee­way granted for mat­ters of na­tional se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing ter­ror­ism.

Trump said dur­ing the Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, R-Ala., is Don­ald Trump’s pick to fol­low At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta Lynch. cam­paign that he would have his at­tor­ney gen­eral ap­point a spe­cial prose­cu­tor to look into Clin­ton, though such an ap­point­ment ul­ti­mately rests with the at­tor­ney gen­eral. On Tues­day, he said he was not in­clined to con­tinue with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Clin­ton “for what­ever power I have on the mat­ter.”

Alabama Sen. Jeff Ses­sions, Trump’s pick for at­tor­ney gen­eral, has ex­pressed an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the in­de­pen­dent na­ture of the job. He asked Loretta Lynch dur­ing her con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing as at­tor­ney gen­eral last year if she was “able and will­ing to tell the presi- dent of the United States noif he asks per­mis­sion or a le­gal opin­ion that sup­ports an ac­tion you be­lieve is wrong?”

Lynch said she was.

Q: Why is the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s in­de­pen­dence so im­por­tant?

A: Jus­tice De­part­ment of­fi­cials have long con­sid­ered it im­per­a­tive that their in­ves­ti­ga­tions not be politi­cized or tainted by sus­pi­cions of in­ter­fer­ence by the White House or other elected lead­ers.

Any hint of po­lit­i­cal med­dling could un­der­mine pub­lic faith in the le­git­i­macy of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It could raise the prospect that a per­son is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated, or is be­ing spared from in­ves­ti­ga­tion, on the whims of po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions rather than ev­i­dence of guilt or in­no­cence.

Q: Does that mean­pres­i­dents have never weighed in pub­licly on on­go­ing mat­ters?

A: The White House has typ­i­cally balked at ques­tions about the sta­tus of Jus­tice De­part­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions. But of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the cur­rent pres­i­dent, haven’t al­ways abided by that fire­wall.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama caused a stir in 2014 when he

SAUL LOEB/GETTY-AFP

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