Michael R. Bromwich, who served as Justice Department inspector general from 1994 to 1999, writes: The announcement by the Justice Department’s inspector general that his office will look into FBI Director James B. Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails reopens painful questions about the 2016 election, but it is also welcome news. The country needs this — an objective, independent and thorough investigation of issues that have roiled the country for months and continue to stir heated debate.
No one questions that the inspector general has the authority to conduct such an investigation, but some wonder whether it is wise to step into matters so completely suffused with politics. These fears are understandable but misguided. Inspectors general occupy a unique institutional position. They have dual reporting responsibilities: to the agency in which they are embedded and to Congress. Members of Congress sometimes inappropriately leverage the power conferred by those reporting responsibilities, and the unique relationships that exist between inspectors general and Congress, by requesting investigations or other reviews that have partisan political motives.
Here, that is not an issue. The announcement made clear that this investigation has bipartisan support — it was requested by the chairman and ranking members of multiple congressional oversight committees. In the face of those requests, the better question is whether the inspector general could afford not to do it.
Some members of the public may wonder how a political appointee in an outgoing administration can launch an investigation such as this one. That misunderstands the role of federal inspectors general, who do not leave with the change of administrations. Inspectors general are the only political appointees whom the law requires be selected “without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of integrity.” They serve for indefinite periods and may be removed only for cause and with advance notice to Congress. [Continue reading…]