Other Voices

Protecting a fundamental value

Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. AP

In all the confusion and partisan wrangling dominating our country today, one thing stands out that should concern us the most.

Trey Gowdy, the stubborn congressman from South Carolina, clarified it well in questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his most recent appearance before the House Judiciary Committee seeking answers about the conduct of the Justice Department.

“You work for a virtue, for a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales. That is what makes our culture different.

“How do you restore people’s trust and confidence in the Department of Justice when it seems like different rules apply depending on who is in power?”

Understanding the profound nature of that question and the importance of its answer will take us back to the founding of our nation.

Paramount in the complaints against the King of England enumerated in our Declaration of Independence were matters of justice. Thomas Jefferson addressed them clearly.

It has been summarized for students by the Lou Frey Institute and others in the following paragraph:

The monarchy had refused to enforce laws, forbidden the legislature to pass laws, made it difficult for colonists to participate in governance and, most important, denied judges their independence to make decisions based on facts and the law alone.

Our forefathers engaged in war for over eight years to win our freedom and secure the blessings of a just society.

Then they set up a system of government that included a branch independent from the power of the executive and the influence of the legislature to ensure fairness and justice for all Americans.

Were we to lose faith in that branch and come to believe it could not be trusted to carry out its high calling, our whole republic would be at risk.

That reality is at the root of the initiative by Gowdy, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte to open a joint bipartisan investigation of decisions made at the Obama Justice Department involving former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

In a joint statement the two congressmen emphasized the importance of justice not recognizing wealth, power or social status. They believe decisions last year have led to a host of outstanding questions that must be answered.

“The impartiality of our justice system is the bedrock of our republic and our fellow citizens must have confidence in its objectivity, independence, and evenhandedness. The law is the most equalizing force in this country. No entity or individual is exempt from oversight.”

The investigation is largely aimed at the practices and decisions at the FBI that led to the exoneration of Clinton. They want explanations of public announcements involving Clinton but none into the investigation of President Trump’s campaign associates.

They want to know how decisions were made with respect to charging or not charging Clinton and why such decisions, usually the purview of the Department of Justice, were appropriated by the FBI.

Recall that former FBI Director James Comey was fired after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded he had usurped his authority by publicly announcing Clinton’s exoneration.

Beyond the questions of whether Clinton is guilty, the larger issues of actions taken and not taken by the Justice Department are what the Gowdy and Goodlatte committees will try to determine.

Such work is a very high calling considering what’s at stake — nothing less than the integrity of the system that is supposed to ensure the preservation of that virtue at the core of our democracy.

In all the bewilderment of the highly politicized charges from both political parties and the national media dominating Washington, D.C., this initiative may actually illuminate some otherwise dark corners there.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the EPA.