The Use and Abuse of Political Accountability

The lethal dangers of leaving unpunished the principle of equality before the law.

In the aftermath of the Mueller investigation, both parties are calling for accountability. Dems believe that despite Mueller’s findings of the president’s innocence of collusion, Donald Trump obstructed justice and must be held to account by impeachment. Republicans are demanding that the federal perpetrators of the Russian “collusion delusion” be made to answer for their violations of the Constitution and the laws limiting their powers.

Beyond the partisan divide, we are witnessing the uses and abuses of one of the fundamental building-blocks of political freedom––the assertion of the citizenry’s right to call out and punish those politicians and public servants who exceed the legal limits placed on a political power that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” 

Like free speech, term limits, and regularly elected or appointed offices, accountability reinforces the central premise of political freedom: that power is not the personal possession of individual men or women, but belongs to the community of citizens as a whole. Accountability checks and deters the innate human tendency to abuse power, and thus to weaken political freedom with tyranny: “That arbitrary power,” as Aristotle defined it, “of an individual which is responsible to no one, and governs all alike, whether equals or betters, with a view to its own advantage, not to that of its subjects, and therefore against their will. No freeman willingly endures such a government.”

There is no question that accountability is due for the sorry spectacle of the Russian collusion hoax. It was created and nourished by so-called public servants in the FBI and Department of Justice. Despite their responsibility to honor the Constitution and maintain political neutrality in performing their duties, officials like James Comey, John Brennan, James Clapper, Bruce Ohr, Andre McCabe, and other members of the Obama administration abused their professional ethics in order to weaken one party in a presidential election and to help the other whom they preferred. Then after Trump was elected, they worked to cripple his presidency, engineering the appointment of a special counsel who spent two years investigating a charge that relied on flimsy and dishonest predicates easily debunked by information already public. 

Finally, the political aims of the Mueller investigation were made clear in his inappropriate statement that Trump had behaved in ways that smacked of obstruction of justice. But that the problem of “intent,” and the legal uncertainties of indicting a sitting president, required the special counsel not to indict, despite the counsel’s mendacious catalogue of behavior and statements suggestive of obstruction. Mueller’s violation of the principle that a prosecutor either indicts or stays silent was clearly intended to feed the Democrats’ continuing obsession with the president’s alleged crimes, and thus create momentum for impeachment. 

Significant numbers of voters are rightfully angry over public “servants” armed with police and investigative powers violating their professional ethics and Constitutional limits. This anger is intensified by the blatant double standard evident in the kid-glove treatment of Hillary Clinton, whose violations of the law regarding her private server, pay-for-play State Department, involvement with the infamous Steele dossier, and corrupt foundation are obvious just from the public record and investigative reporting like Peter Schweitzer’s Clinton Cash. People wonder why Mueller’s charge to investigate “Russian interference” ignored Hillary and the DNC’s purchase of a fictional dossier created by an ex British spy, with the help of Russian professional fabricators of disinformation. 

Voters are right to be angry. This double-standard and willful inattention on the part of our security agencies, strikes at the heart of political accountability: the enforcement of the principle of equality under the law. Without that principle, there can be no political freedom or equality. Justice then becomes shaped by the interests of those with wealth or political connections, and government then degenerates into a species of tyranny.

This still festering scandal over the surveillance of the Trump campaign and administration based on a spurious collection of lies and rumors demands that the perpetrators be held to account. They must be investigated, questioned under oath, and forced to tell the truth, take the Fifth, or perjure themselves. Grand juries must be impaneled and indictments handed down. Trials must be held, and juries must decide guilt or innocence. And all this must be done as publicly as possible, so that we the people can see that justice is blind, and that no amount of power or connections gives someone exemption from the laws that govern everybody else. 

So much for how accountability can contribute to the political health of a nation by reaffirming its foundational principles. But like everything else people do, accountability can be warped into a political weapon. The ongoing vilification of Trump by the Democrats, and the strident demands of radical Dems to proceed with impeachment, represent the abuse of accountability to serve partisan ends.

Now we see anti-Trumpers from both parties latch on to Mueller’s statements about Trump’s alleged desire to obstruct the investigation as proof that obstruction did in fact occur, and so now they must use impeachment to hold the president accountable. The dishonesty of this pretext lies in the absence of any crime the investigation of which Trump tried to “obstruct.” Frustrated outbursts of an innocent man over Mueller’s drawn-out investigation and the media smears it has fueled; threats to fires executive-office employees the president has the Constitutional right to fire; suggestion of leniency for someonelike Mike Flynn, who has served his country honorably and could be indicted only for a confused memory during a perjury trap–– these are not crimes of obstruction. They are artifacts of our modern 24/7 surveillance regime in which the private can become the public in nanoseconds, and publicized words be reified into deeds.

Finally, no practical result will follow the Dems’ obsession with impeachment, a fact that shows even more clearly their rank partisan aims. Even if the House votes to impeach, there is no chance that 67 Senators will vote to convict. And more politically astute Democrats in the House are starting to realize that their radical colleagues are heading for a monumental political blunder, making a bill of impeachment unlikely. But just the threat of impeachment provides a pretext for the Trump-hating media to continue with their hysterical coverage of the president, which they hope can recover the viewers lost once the Mueller report blew up the whole Russian collusion hoax. Meanwhile the hard-core radical base can be kept fired-up and eager to work during the primary campaigns for whichever novelty act they support.

For now, this current abuse of accountability seems likely to damage the Democrats if they don’t give up the impeachment revenge-fantasy of their teeny-bopper Jacobins like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or obsessive Trump-haters like California Rep. Eric Swalwell. A majority of Americans––56%, and 59% of swing-voting independents––don’t support impeachment, a clear sign that it’s time to move on. So the Dems are headed for an intratribal blood-letting that can benefit only the Republicans, while their ongoing hysteria over impeaching Trump givesvoters another reason to dislike them. 

But the abuse of accountability, especially impeachment, can be dangerous. The impeachment of Richard Nixon over penny-ante political crimes as common as flies in most of the world’s governments wounded the presidency at a time when the resolution of the war in Vietnam needed the commander-in-chief’s attention and commitment to make sure the gains won on the battlefield were not squandered by a political failure of nerve. We all know what followed: the wasting of the sacrifice of nearly 60 thousand Americans, the shameful abandonment of an ally to the brutalities of a communist regime, the Soviet Union embarking on a geopolitical rampage, and the empowerment at home of a left-wing faction that would begin the “fundamental transformation” of our Constitutional republic.

We are now faced with the need for a proper accountability: the exposure and punishment of those “public servants” who abused their expansive intrusive powers in order to violate the rights of Americans in an attempted coup d’état of a president legally elected by 64 million Americans. The Attorney General must make this accountability his number one priority, for the foundational principles of our political freedom have already been weakened by sustained assaults on the First Amendment, and by progressivism’s century-long erosion of citizen freedom and autonomy by an overweening technocratic elite. 

Finally, leaving unpunished the principle of equality before the law will erode confidence in the exceptional goodness of our political order, and weaken with cynicism the affection we should have for it. The world’s too dangerous to let that happen.

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