DOJ Internal Misconduct Shrouded in Veil of Secrecy

doj misconduct reports
Senate Democrats, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

By Eric Felten for RealClearPolitics

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz was busy this week, releasing three separate reports on Monday alone.

Each detailed misconduct by a different assistant United States attorney: One finds a federal lawyer trying to use his position to avoid a drunk driving charge; another finds a government attorney getting drunk and physically belligerent at a meeting with foreign officials; the third, and most disturbing, finds an assistant U.S. attorney exposing his genitals “in a public place,” and sexually assaulting a “civilian” on a date.

Who were these federal prosecutors? The summary reports don’t say. A spokesperson for the Office of the Inspector General told RealClearPolitics that it could not release their names. RCP has filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking for their identities.

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The Justice Department doesn’t hesitate to publicize the names of those it accuses of wrongdoing. At least when those accused do not work for Justice. Last Friday, for example, the DOJ office of Public Affairs issued a press release announcing that the department had filed a discrimination lawsuit against the owner and managers of a Milwaukee rental property. Though a court has yet to rule against those accused of harassing a gay, disabled tenant, the DOJ press release named them.

Compare that with “Investigative Summary” number 22-104, in which the inspector general determined that an assistant United States attorney was driving under the influence when he (or she) was pulled over by police. The investigation found that the prosecutor had tried to pull rank on the local cops, “referring to the AUSA’s title in an attempt to influence local police officers.” When that didn’t work, the drunk federal lawyer shouted obscenities and kicked the door of the police car.

These were violations of federal ethics regulations according to the IG, who found the assistant U.S. attorney’s actions also ran afoul of the standards of conduct required of federal employees, including that they “not engage in criminal, infamous, dishonest, immoral, or notoriously disgraceful conduct, or other conduct prejudicial to the Government.” The AUSA remains unnamed.

Also anonymous is the federal prosecutor whose belligerent behavior is detailed in the OIG’s Investigative Summary number 22-105. The inspector general’s office states it “substantiated” an allegation that an AUSA behaved “unprofessionally” while detailed to a foreign country.

The AUSA was accused of “inappropriate physical contact” with a foreign local working for the State Department: The IG found that the attorney, inebriated, grabbed the Foreign Service National by the chin and aggressively forced the State Department employee to pay attention to the AUSA. When the inspector general asked about this behavior, the IG was told about the many other official events at which the AUSA was intoxicated.

On those occasions, the prosecutor was in the habit of telling foreign government officials what the lawyer thought of them, what the IG described as “offensive and demeaning remarks.”

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Investigative Summary number 22-103 describes behavior more serious. In that investigation, the Justice Department IG found that, on a date with a “civilian,” an AUSA’s “genitals were exposed in public.” According to the inspector general’s report on the incident, “the AUSA forced the civilian’s hand to touch the AUSA’s genitals.” This was not only a violation of federal regulations governing off-duty conduct, the OIG found it to be against state law. And yet, “Criminal prosecution of the AUSA was declined.”

During the course of the investigation, the Office of the Inspector General interviewed the prosecutor and found that he “lacked candor in discussing this incident.” That’s the Inspector General’s way of saying he lied. Again, however, the DOJ inspector general declined to provide the name of the AUSA. As for the DOJ itself, “Criminal prosecution of the AUSA was declined.”

Often when Justice chooses not to prosecute (or even identify) an employee of the department – including those who work for the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, or another element of the department – it is because the employee has resigned or retired.

Last September, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a report criticizing the FBI’s practice of locking away the findings of internal investigations when an agent or official accused of misconduct packed his or her desk “prior to or during the adjudication process.”

The names of those accused of misconduct are kept secret even when the allegations have been fully investigated and the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility “could make a substantiation decision based on the available evidence.” According to the inspector general, “this practice fails to hold accountable former FBI employees who separate while under investigation.”

That policy may protect federal employees who abuse their office, but it doesn’t do any favors for the FBI agent falsely accused of misconduct. Failing to “fully document an adjudication,” Horowitz said last September, “fails to clear former employees whose misconduct allegations were unsubstantiated.”

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The IG’s recommendation notwithstanding, the Justice Department continues to shroud wrongdoing by its own in a system of secrecy. It is a policy that does little to restore confidence in a department viewed by many Americans with suspicion.

Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.

Eric Felten is an investigative correspondent for RealClearInvestigations, reporting on government corruption. He is a former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and previously a Kennedy Fellow at Harvard University. Felten has been published in Washingtonian, People, National Geographic TravelerThe Weekly StandardDaily BeastNational ReviewSpectator USA, and Reader’s Digest.

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