- - Tuesday, March 6, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Every Republican is screaming for a special counsel to investigate the FISA mess. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions referred the case to the inspector general. So, what’s the best option?

An inspector general investigation is a sluggish, impotent fact-finding mission with limited jurisdiction. It cannot convene a grand jury or compel people to talk. Inspector generals are appointed by the president and assigned to each Cabinet-level department. They must restrict their investigations to that agency only.

But the FISA scandal seems to cut across several departments, including State, Justice and the Executive Branch. A further limitation is the inability to interview “former” Justice employees like James Comey, Andy McCabe, James Rybicki, and others who have no obligation to speak with the Justice IG.

Any criminal findings of an IG investigation are referred to the Justice Department anyway, so why take this meandering trip. Once referred, the Justice Department will likely convene a grand jury and essentially duplicate the entire IG investigation. So, if we conclude the inspector general investigation is a bad option, that leaves us with the special counsel.

We don’t need any more stinkin’ special counsels. It takes many months just to assemble a team and buy paper clips before they begin any substantive work. Our fascination with special counsels is based on the false belief that they are impartial and competent. Both Robert Mueller and Ken Starr would have enjoyed the Salem Witch Trials. They’d be tossing kindling onto the bonfires of maidens accused of collusion with Russian warlocks.

Mr. Starr spent years pressuring President Clinton into perjuring himself over oral sex. This is not a good use of our money and manpower while terrorists plot jihad.

The unspoken goal of any special counsel investigation is the indictment of powerful individuals. Which is why no special counsel investigation has ever concluded with the words, “No Finding.” Though limited in scope, every special counsel eventually colors outside the lines. Robert Mueller’s strategy seems to be jamming up individuals in President Trump’s orbit, and then “flipping” them.

The fact that Mr. Mueller is operating beyond his mandate of Russian collusion seems to be lost on Rod Rosenstein. The deputy attorney general must approve any expansion in scope, and indicting individuals on unrelated financial crimes seems a long way from Moscow. Here’s an inside secret. White-collar investigators can uncover criminal activity on “any” target.

This is especially true of high-profile targets given the myriad of laws on the books which can be selectively enforced. Mr. Mueller’s team seems to be ignoring evidence of Democratic collusion with the Kremlin while aiming all torpedoes at President Trump.

President Trump, Jared Kushner, Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric Trump may have criminal exposure given their extensive financial transactions. Paperwork required by state gaming commissions or the IRS is complex and tedious. Real estate and casino contracts contain hidden regulatory land mines which can detonate. No one can withstand an in-depth investigation whether you’re a waitress pocketing tips or some guy claiming a home office on his tax return. If both the IG and special counsel are bad options, then what’s left?

We seem intent on bypassing the one organization with the expertise and jurisdiction in favor of artificial sweetener. That agency is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Since many of the criminal suspects are either present and former FBI agents, the logical question becomes, “can an agency investigate itself?”

One should not confuse the rank and file FBI agent with the Beltway gang that couldn’t tweet straight. James Comey, Peter Strzok, Andy McCabe, Lisa Page, James Baker and other inhabitants of Headquarters shared an insulated bubble of arrogance.

Headquarters duty has always been considered an unwanted, but obligatory, stop along the management journey. Agents spend a few years initialing stuff and attending meetings until they can escape back to the field. It’s like being in the penalty box.

We keep tinkering with our system of justice when the problem is not the machinery but the human beings pulling the levers. The FBI and Justice Department have successfully prosecuted bad guys for 100 years. What’s changed in the past 20 years is partisanship and a lack of leadership.

The recent attempted government coup involving high-ranking FBI and Justice officials may be viewed as the impetus for a second special counsel, but I contend that the FBI is the best and most appropriate option for justice.

Mr. Sessions should not have passed the FISA baton to the inspector general. An FBI field division is already located in D.C. with the jurisdiction and capability to investigate complex cases. Mr. Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray are likable folks but need to put on their “big boy” trousers and lead. Mr. Wray should direct the FBI Washington Field Office to open the case and get out of their way. This will have a rehabilitative and morale boosting effect on the men and women who are the heart and soul of the FBI. Field agents are sick and tired of being confused with the rampant careerists occupying the seventh floor.

John Ligato is a retired FBI agent and former Marine. His latest book, “The Near Enemy,” deals with bureaucratic obstructions in investigating terrorism.

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