Opinion | White House

We've lost sight of the real scandal

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What will Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz's latest investigation reveal? Will Congress hold hearings about it? Will former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe actually get indicted? After all, it's said that a motivated prosecutor can "indict a ham sandwich" if he really wants to.

We're so wrapped up in the daily tick-tock, we could be losing sight of a big picture that's come into focus over the past two years. For the first time in our nation's history, an inspector general - one appointed by President Obama - has determined that at least two men who sat in the top spot at the FBI committed multiple violations that warrant possible prosecution. That in itself is a scandal with national implications deserving of headlines, congressional hearings and promises to overhaul a broken system.

Of course, the complicating factor in the whole mess is that the government entities responsible for addressing any wrongdoing are the same ones inextricably tied to the alleged wrongdoing. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the FBI employ enough people to populate a mid-sized city - more than 113,000. Both agencies are much more than the top men or women in charge. Even as certain personalities are divested, tentacles run deep; ties cross administrations and party lines. The recent past provides little reason to think this behemoth can always be neutral when it comes to its own. The machine has proven it can move swiftly when it comes to criminal cases against certain politically connected figures for relatively small infractions - but it has shown less commitment when it comes to others.

By way of a few examples, we can start with the scathing 2016 election-year ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). It found the National Security Agency (NSA) guilty of "institutional lack of candor" in its spying on U.S. citizens. The court also said the NSA's practices raised serious constitutional issues. It sounds pretty serious but, as far as we know, the FBI pursued no investigation into any responsible officials. And after years of surveillance abuses well-documented by the FISC and others, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to Congress that there have never been any.

Also during the 2016 election year, administration officials conducted rampant "unmaskings," revealing protected names of incidentally surveilled U.S. citizens. But after President Obama's United Nations ambassador, Samantha Power, testified that someone else made unmasking requests using her name, there seemed to be a conspicuous lack of curiosity. As far as we know, the FBI did not move to expose who was responsible for any possible violations of national security and privacy protections.

When the FBI lost thousands of text messages, sought by the inspector general, between FBI official Peter Strzok and bureau attorney Lisa Page, it was chalked up to a technical snafu and the case was closed. There was no announcement at the FBI about steps being taken to ensure such a major blunder won't happen in the future; there was only what amounted to a symbolic shrug. The chaser to that debacle was Strzok and Page's text messages from their time working for special counsel Robert Mueller also ended up somehow deleted

There's been no swift, public action that we know of on eight criminal referrals that two House Intelligence Committee Republicans, Reps. Devin Nunes of California and John Ratcliffe of Texas, sent to the Department of Justice more than five months ago. There's no word of any action more than eight months after Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a criminal referral to the DOJ against Christopher Steele, author of the anti-Trump political opposition research "dossier." 

The Department of Justice took a pass on filing charges against ex-FBI Director James Comey for alleged violations that the inspector general documented with precision in more than 70 pages of a report last month.

Finally, there have been no FBI apologies offered to former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page after the FBI wiretapped him for more than a year. No post-mortem launched into how the FBI could have been so wildly wrong when swearing to the court, over and over, that Page was a Russian spy.

So, as Americans wait to see if a shoe is about to drop in McCabe's case, the adage about indicting a sandwich is true. But the calculus may be different when those in charge of indicting the sandwich are the same ones making it.

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers "The Smear" and "Stonewalled," and host of Sinclair's Sunday TV program, "Full Measure."

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