This Op-Ed by yours truly appears in Florida Today newspaper. Title speaks for itself:
Marshall Frank: US attorney generals should be elected
If President Bill Clinton had Eric Holder for attorney general in 1998, there would never have been an impeachment for committing perjury. Instead, America was treated to a fair investigation. Clinton had appointed a straight-laced attorney general named Janet Reno, probably the least political-minded AG in history.
I knew Reno as the state attorney in Dade County. She was so honest and self-dependent she wouldn’t even allow her employees to gas her car. She solicited no favors. It’s a mystery how she survived in a political world.
When the scandal broke about Clinton’s mendacity under oath, Reno knew being a member of Clinton’s cabinet would be a conflict because she would face expectations from her boss. Therefore, it was prudent to step aside and appoint a special prosecutor to handle the investigation.
Americans have not been privileged to that level of integrity today.
Eric Holder has spent a good part of his efforts in office dodging presidential scandals, some of which would absolutely justify appointing an independent prosecutor so that a neutral, nonpartisan investigation could be conducted. But Holder established his Department of Justice as the impenetrable wall around the president’s castle. Obama need not worry about scandals so long as Holder stood guard.
The nation’s president is not supposed to be above the law. In the past six years as president, Barack Obama has ostensibly violated numerous laws and procedures to further his agendas. Among them: Implementing the Dream Act by executive fiat; making recess appointments when the senate was in session; changing Obamacare laws on the fly without congressional action; authorizing military action in Libya without congressional approval; killing American citizens with drone strikes in other countries; disregarding illegal gun running by the Department of Justice in Fast & Furious; IRS selection of adversaries based on political leanings; negotiating releases of dangerous terrorists without consulting/informing Congress, and so on.
The magnitude of alleged violations are unprecedented for any president, including Richard Nixon, upon whose impeachable crimes were centered on a single case (Watergate). One only needs to Google “Impeachment Causes Obama” to find numerous pages of essays by journalists and political pundits, detailing reasons why Barack Obama should, at the least, be subject to a fair investigation by an independent authority. But that will not happen so long as his appointed attorney general acts as a partisan protector.
In November 2014, columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote that Obama’s use of executive orders violating immigration laws was an impeachable offense by itself. Krauthammer also pointed out that, regardless of allegations, impeaching Obama would be political suicide for the Republican Party in 2016.
Does this mean America now has a president who considers himself the head of two branches of government, not one? Will we have 21 months of quasi-dictatorship, i.e. legislation by executive fiat trumping the constitution and the responsibilities of Congress?
This should be a lesson learned about the political structure of our federal government in need of change. U.S. attorney generals should be elected, not appointed. That would instill more independence for the nation’s top law enforcer without being politically beholden to a chief executive. If there is any office that necessitates neutrality, it is the attorney general.
Attorney generals are elected in 45 state systems across the country. Only five are appointed by governors. Those who are elected can conduct independent probes of political corruption without regard for allegiances. Those who are appointed in the states are beholden to the governor. On the federal level, the AG is a devotee to the president. That needs to change.
Will it happen? Don’t hold your breath.
Frank is an author and retired Miami police detective who lives in Melbourne. Visit his website at www.marshallfrank.com.