- - Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Although the rot has been visible for some time, recent actions by President Obama’s Department of Justice and director of national intelligence make it possible to say definitively that the United States we once extolled as a nation of laws and not of men no longer exists. Our federal laws are today being manipulated by political operatives in ways that would have made those running the old Daley machine in the president’s hometown blush.

First, the Department of Justice announced that Lois Lerner and her merry little Internal Revenue Service crew that spent much of their time sitting on paperwork from conservative nonprofits and the rest, peppering them with questions no free government should ask its citizens, hadn’t really done anything wrong and certainly weren’t “targeting” conservatives for political or ideological reasons. The announcement could hardly survive the giggle test, but meant Ms. Lerner will skate for using the IRS to go after Mr. Obama’s “enemies” in ways that Congress included in the articles of impeachment filed against former President Richard Nixon for merely suggesting in an earlier day.

Then just a few days ago, Mr. Obama’s director of national intelligence slapped down his own inspector general by announcing that Hillary Clinton really hadn’t done anything wrong, either, in keeping her email account on a private server. In both cases, the actions of these appointees came after the president said publicly that there is no “there” there in either case.

Meanwhile, the FBI and Department of Justice have been busily pursuing corporate executives or employees in an effort to send people to prison just to make a point. Anyone who doubts the horror of this need merely read Kurt Mix’s Wall Street Journal account of the police raid on his home and subsequent prosecution in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. His crime was that he was a BP employee who had worked nonstop for days to stop the spill. The investigators were seeking not truth and justice, but scalps on the wall and more Americans behind bars.

They, like the team of prosecutors unleashed on Alaska’s late Sen. Ted Stevens, ignored the rules, refused to turn over exculpatory evidence, and went ahead hell-bent to send yet another innocent to prison. Cases like these are why former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli once said the real problem is that too many prosecutors and others in this country forget that the term criminal justice system includes the word justice.

Mr. Obama’s minions have prosecuted an oil producer for inadvertently allowing a duck that landed in a waste pond to die while granting solar and wind power producers the right to kill thousands of ducks, geese, eagles and endangered birds that get in their way, and they argue for more and more criminal penalties to be imposed on men and women who have unwittingly violated regulations they don’t even know exist.

The vagaries of Mr. Obama’s laws and the willingness of his enforcers to use those laws to punish men and women who irritate him and his agents, while excusing the misdeeds of his friends and financial supporters, has made businessmen and women afraid to expand their businesses or take the financial risks so important to a vibrant and free economy, while empowering criminals to ignore the rules of a civil society.

It isn’t just the hated 1 percenters his enforcers are after, either. His Justice Department is increasingly using civil asset forfeiture laws to confiscate the savings, operating capital and property of small retailers and business owners who, for innocent reason, can be accused of violating the laws against making multiple bank deposits of under $10,000. These abuses ruin the lives of people who have never done anything wrong and are drawn into a trap intended to catch big-time drug dealers and then treated like members of a Mexican drug cartel by federal officials who know better but don’t care.

History makes clear that a free and prosperous society depends on the rule of law to survive. In this country we are increasingly forced to refer to the stability protected by the rule of law as something that once existed but, like the eagles fried by modern solar collectors or shredded by energy-producing windmills, may soon be but a historic memory.

David A. Keene is Opinion Editor at The Washington Times.

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