The U.S. Department of Justice set off a frenzy Monday with the release of this letter announcing it plans to continue investigating Hillary Clinton, the Obama administration, and anything else that current Republican officeholders can think of to try and distract from all the ongoing investigations into Donald Trump and his cronies:
This responds to your letters dated July 27, 2017, and September 26, 2017, in which you
and other Members request the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate various matters, including the sale of Uranium One, alleged unlawful dealings related to the Clinton Foundation and other matters.
Maybe they'll reopen Travelgate while they're at it.
There is no point in relitigating the Uranium One story here, since it has been thoroughly debunked. But it is worth pushing back on some of the arm-waving that came in response to this letter.
Despite some of the more breathless headlines — The Washington Post was particularly egregious — this letter does not state that Attorney General Jeff Sessions intends to appoint a special counsel to investigate the Clinton Foundation or anything else.
Instead, the letter stated that federal prosecutors will look at some of the issues the letter's addressee, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte, raised in an earlier letter and will make recommendations to Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about whether any of it is even worthy of an investigation. It will be up to Sessions or Rosenstein to decide on a special counsel.
This letter is more or less senior management at the Justice Department taking steps to move deliberately and carefully with potential investigations, as one would hope any lawyers would do. The potential investigations might be politically motivated, but that is not something these prosecutors can necessarily say. So they are distributing the caseload, taking a look at what they have been asked to look at, and saying they will make appropriate recommendations.
It is basically the kind of hindquarters-covering one would expect from civil servants being badgered by politicians with axes to grind.
It is possible some of these federal prosecutors are political hacks who are reading the president's Twitter feed and yelling “Yes! We need a special counsel to investigate Crooked Hillary!” And it is wrong for the president to publicly complain in a way that the attorney general feels pressured to appoint a special counsel to investigate Trump's political enemies.
But this letter is a fairly careful response to the president's freakout. We shouldn't blow it up beyond that. Yet.
Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.