In a rare blistering attack on the Department of Justice, a career veteran of the agency recently told Raw Story that the Obama administration handing Bush-era officials “a get out of jail free card” sets “a dangerous precedent” that could encourage other offenses by future leaders.
J. Gerald Hebert, a former acting Justice Department chief who served the government’s enforcement wing in various capacities between 1973 and 1994, said in an exclusive interview that the failure of federal prosecutors to charge former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) with even a single crime was indicative of a greater problem.
On the heels of the successful prosecution of DeLay for money laundering and conspiracy in Texas, Hebert said he hoped it was clear that the Department of Justice had nothing to do with that conviction.
Rather, the Obama administration’s Justice Department in August closed down a six-year investigation into DeLay — without filing a single charge.
He said that the success of the Travis County District Attorney’s office, which had DeLay sentenced to three years in jail, not only highlighted the Justice Department’s “unfathomable” failure in one prosecution, but also a “disturbing pattern” of less vigorous pursuit in congressional corruption cases since Obama took office.
As a private citizen, Hebert has worked as executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan group that monitors government ethics, campaign finance and elections, and served as an adjunct professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center.
The 20-year DOJ veteran also criticized the administration’s refusal to investigate or prosecute any serious criminal activities from the Bush-era, such as sanctioning the waterboarding of military detainees and directing the political firings of US Attorneys. These “at a minimum deserve complete investigation,” he said.
The Obama administration’s excuse “to look forward and not backward” fails to fulfill the agency’s “duty” to investigate, he said — a charge that includes “any federal office holder who violates the Constitution or federal law.”
“The department makes decisions based on the facts, evidence and the law, and nothing else,” Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney remarked in an email to Raw Story.
Has justice gone ‘gun-shy’?
Hebert, who served in multiple supervisory positions at the Department of Justice, commented that “everybody” from the Bush-era has seemed to land their own “get out of jail free card.”
In regard to prosecuting political corruption in Congress, Hebert said that “the Justice Department is gun-shy” since the botched handling of a case against deceased former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).
“It is unfathomable for me to believe that after all was said and done, and knowing as much information that was out there about what DeLay and his high-level cronies had done, that there wasn’t a single prosecution,” Hebert continued.
“So my hats are off to the Travis County prosecutors who were able to at least bring some amount of justice to this,” he said.
Hebert noted that his disbelief also rests in the fact that the Justice Department had given convicted former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff a deal to delay his sentencing for months in exchange for providing information.
“They delayed his sentencing so they could take advantage of that,” he explained, expressing shock that Abramoff’s information did not result in a DOJ indictment of DeLay.
“In the arrogant world that Tom DeLay lived in, he was kingpin,” Hebert said. “He did a lot of damage to people, and to the democracy ultimately, when he tried to undermine and circumvent important rules about corporate funding and clean money.”
“DeLay basically put Congress up for sale,” he continued. “He went down and stood on the corner of K Street and tried to sell it.”
Hebert also cited numerous other Congressional corruption cases, on both sides of the aisle, that left him scratching his head as to why prosecutions were not pursued – including Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) on conspiracy charges and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) on tax evasion.
“The Justice Department has been missing in action when it comes to public corruption cases,” he charged.
‘Bush and Cheney are not above the law’
“When [Obama and Holder] took over they made it clear that they weren’t going to get caught up in the past,” Hebert said. “They were going to look to the future and make it a brighter day and full of hope.”
But this view is inconsistent “with the Constitution, federal law and what the Department of Justice is sworn to uphold,” he insisted.
Hebert said he believed that in wanting to appear nonpartisan, they instead weakened the Justice Department, sending a consequential message to the American people.
“It’s one thing to want to appear like you’re above the political fray and your cases aren’t motivated by politics,” Hebert pointed out. “But it’s another to not hold people accountable and to not bring justice.”
He also said that running the Justice Department in such a manner sets a “dangerous precedent.”
“Bush and Cheney are not above the law,” Hebert concluded. “Whether it’s the president, the vice president or any federal office holder who violates the Constitution or federal law, or there are serious allegations suggesting that such violations may have existed, then the Department of Justice has a duty and an obligation to fully investigate that.
“And if there are no consequences to any of the actions that violated the federal law in the last administration, then why would anybody think that they would ever be prosecuted for doing it in the future?”
Edited by Stephen C. Webster.
Brad Jacobson is a contributing investigative reporter for Raw Story. You can follow his Twitter feed at twitter.com/bradpjacobson.