Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Power to Investigate

The power to investigate is the power to destroy. We often hear that the U.S. president is the most powerful person in the world, but that has more to do with the nuclear codes and that power to destroy than the power for positive change in the world. The president's power is checked at every turn by other powerful entities like Congress.

The Watergate Committee understood their power to destroy and took great pains to reach consensus at each major step in their investigation. The investigation was an attempt to understand what just happened - who did what, when and why? At whose direction? Republican Senator Howard Baker's famous "What did the president know and when did he know" was spoken from the perspective -- we do not presume guilt and seek to find evidence to support the conclusion of guilt---we assume the possibility of innocence, but we try to understand what just happened and what is going on. The truly bipartisan consensus of seriousness of purpose and care with regard to the potential danger for democracy was paramount.
We find ourselves at a very different juncture. Investigation is used as a tool for political advocacy. The red flag is the double derivative:
1. Multiple Benghazi investigations. After the first investigation, all other investigations are instigated due to disappointment at the results of the first, or to search for new material for unrelated investigations.
2. Clinton private email server is discovered as a result of the Benghazi investigations. Otherwise, we would not know about the server. That puts us in the derivative mode. If you investigate enough and never close the investigation, you are sure to find something.
3. The latest batch of emails, about which we have no information, is also discovered as a result of an "unrelated investigation", said to be the Weiner investigation.

But here we go again - constant investigation mode.  All that matters is the investigation in this world. Nothing else counts. Timing of revelations is ignored. Perspective on proportionality is ignored. The fact that the choice to investigate or not, every step of the way, matters a great deal is ignored.
So investigation (2) derives from (1). That is the derivative.
And investigation (3) derives from the Weiner investigation. But the interest in the treatment of the emails in (3) derives from (2) which derives from (1). So that puts us in second derivative mode, which is a big red flag that screams out - Is this any way to run a country?

Rep. Chaffetz of Utah threatens endless investigations. This stolid stance works as a tactic if the representative does not care about moving forward with legislation because there is never a need to work with colleagues who disagree on some issues, but can agree on others -- to compromise. His investigations do double duty -- they also succeed in distracting from policy objectives. Here we are in 2016, with the Republican strategy to stall out the Congress until 2018, 2020, or beyond -- whenever they finally hold power in Congress working with a Republican president, or, if that never happens, to stall forever.

The continuing endless investigations are just one component of the search for disqualifiers. As a society, we are the victims, subject to the discretion of the powers that be to pursue the search, or not, depending on their own objectives, without regard to the impact on confidence in our government. We have already seen where this does and does not lead.

Stay tuned for more about the role of the Director of the FBI - to report to the Attorney General or to report to the Congress.

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