The huge problem with appointing special prosecutors

Peter Zeidenberg writes: Prosecutors are not journalists, and their job is not to inform the public of the results of their investigations. Rather, their mission is to gather all of the relevant facts and determine whether a crime was committed and, if so, whether it can be proved in court beyond a reasonable doubt. Their work, when done properly, is done in secret. Indeed, violations of grand jury secrecy can result in serious sanctions from the court.

If, after a full criminal investigation, it was determined that a crime occurred but the critical evidence was not obtainable — say, for purposes of argument, that this evidence was in Russia, unobtainable by subpoena — then it would be improper to seek an indictment. Critically, the entire investigation would then remain secret. It would be a violation of law for a prosecutor to make public the results of a grand jury investigation that did not result in an indictment.

Further, it is entirely possible that there could have been improper or inappropriate contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence without U.S. laws having being broken. If, for example, a Trump campaign operative actively coordinated with WikiLeaks the release of Clinton campaign emails — originally hacked by the Russians — the public would be justifiably outraged. But that does not necessarily mean the conduct was illegal. Were a special prosecutor to reach such a conclusion, the public would remain entirely in the dark. All they would know is that, after many months — or, more likely, years — of investigation, the special prosecutor had packed up his or her bags and gone home. No special reports. No Comey-style news conferences. Just radio silence.

Needless to say, this would be highly unsatisfactory. The public has a right to know, conclusively, whether their president’s campaign coordinated in any fashion with a foreign power — even if that coordination did not amount to a violation of U.S. law. Conduct can be wrongful — even reprehensible — and still not necessarily be criminal. The remedy for such conduct should be political. [Continue reading…]

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