Facing Investigations, DOJ Claims the Right to Avoid Investigations

Attorney General Loretta Lynch has no intention of reversing the Justice Department’s defiance of the Inspector General Act. She made that clear during a House Judiciary oversight hearing last month. Indeed, her own Office of Legal Counsel has issued a badly flawed opinion that insists DOJ and FBI officials can, at their discretion, withhold information from the Justice Department’s inspector general -- the individual tasked by Congress with investigating those very same officials.

This is an all too “transparent” continuation of the administration’s habit of trying to hide what the government is doing from Congress, the public, the media, and those who are supposed to be policing the executive branch.

Congress created the federal Inspector General (IG) system in the 1970s to combat problems of “waste, fraud, and abuse within designated federal departments and agencies.” Then-President Jimmy Carter said the IGs would be “the most important new tools in the fight against fraud,” and that “their ultimate responsibility is not to any individual but to the public interest.”

Only with independence and absolute access to internal information can the IGs fulfill their intended purpose. And the IG Act of 1978 could not be clearer.

Section 2 of the Act says very explicitly that IGs must be given access to “all records, reports, audits, reviews, documents, papers, recommendations, or other material” relevant to their investigative duties. Notice that Congress said that IGs are to have access to “all” records -- not just those that executive branch officials, in their infinite wisdom, decide that the IG should get.

loretta lynch inspector general

("'All' of them? It 'is' what it 'is,' people.")

But the Obama administration is balking, to the utter frustration of the inspectors general and members of Congress.

Earlier this year, as we explain in a new Heritage Foundation legal analysis, the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel released an opinion that DOJ officials could withhold information at their discretion from the IG. To evade audits and investigation of possible misbehavior, DOJ officials need only claim that the information sought by an IG is protected by provisions of the Federal Wiretap Act, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

If this DOJ opinion stands, it will entitle DOJ employees -- as well as employees of other federal agencies -- to shield their operations from IG oversight under any other federal statutes with similar non-disclosure provisions.