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May 23, 2013 10:51 AM Those Two Dreaded Words: “Special Prosecutor”

By Ed Kilgore

Mitch McConnell’s whiny little op-ed on the alleged persecution of campaign donors by evil bureaucrats and “union thugs” is, believe it or not, only the second worst thing I’ve read on the WaPo site this morning. The worst is a piece by Republican “strategist” Ed Rogers under the headline: “A special prosecutor in the IRS matter is inevitable.”

Oh, God, please, anything but that.

Rogers, concern-trolling with great solemnity, suggests that appointing a special prosecutor would enable the White House to adopt a strategy of “slowing the congressional inquiries and giving Jay Carney some relief from his daily embarrassing routine by supplying him with the escape hatch of not being allowed to comment on matters associated with the special prosecutor’s ongoing investigation. Not to mention, the White House all the while could blast the appointed counsel as a partisan ideologue a la the hatchet job that was done on Ken Starr.”

Yeah, we all remember that poor victim Ken Starr, don’t we?

Personally, I’m all for letting the congressional “investigators” run wild, if the only alternative is dependence on one of the worst institutions of modern law and politics, the special prosecutor (and yes, I felt that way when the Bush administration was resisting calls for a special prosecutor to investigate its many scandals). At least congressional committees have to deal with the growing public realization that they really ought to have something better to do—you know, something connected with actual governing. Special prosecutors are encouraged, yea required, to engage in endless fishing expeditions, even if they lead the intrepid sleuths far from the original issues.

Mike Tomasky said it well in his Daily Beast column today:

The Republicans are looking for some way to tie this bureaucratic screw-up to last year’s campaign, or better still to Obama himself. They know very well the best way to do that: a special prosecutor. A special prosecutor, unlike all those apparently unspecial prosecutors across the United States trying to nab genuinely bad guys with limited resources, has no constraints on time or money. He can just keep turning over rocks until he finds something that smells suspicious. Of all the undemocratic institutions we suffer with in our democracy, it’s far and away the most undemocratic.
Bill Clinton learned that agreeing to a special prosecutor was the greatest mistake of his presidency (and by the way, conservatives howling for one now—imagine what Dick Cheney would have thought of a Plame special prosecutor, and at least have the self-awareness to acknowledge that you’d have been with him every step of the way). But part of the reason Clinton agreed was that he knew he and Hillary had done nothing wrong on Whitewater.
Fat lot of good that did them. Obama may know that he’s done nothing wrong here, but that is no reason to accede to these dishonest demands. There will be pressure from the right, and it will grow, but there’s only one person who has the power to name a special prosecutor. His name is Obama. He has been naive about the Republicans, but he better not be that naive.

Agreed.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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