Blog — Ethics
On Wednesday, CREW filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice for records from the now-closed investigative file of Congressman Vern Buchanan (R-FL). This lawsuit follows five others in which CREW seeks to learn why DOJ refused to prosecute members and former members of Congress despite evidence of significant criminal misconduct. Judge after judge has ruled the public interest in these investigations outweighs the privacy interests of the members of Congress and required DOJ to provide detailed explanations for what it is withholding and why. Yet in the case of Vern Buchanan DOJ has yet to release to CREW a single document, which raises the obvious question: Just what is DOJ hiding?
Investigated by both the Federal Election Commission and DOJ, Rep. Buchanan has so far managed to elude prosecution. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) concluded the evidence before it “comes close to supporting a finding that it is more likely than not” Rep. Buchanan violated federal election laws, but declined to act. And despite reports of widening federal criminal inquiries into Rep. Buchanan’s receipt of excessive and conduit campaign contributions, DOJ pulled the plug on any prosecution in September 2012.
After this announcement, CREW filed Freedom of Information Act requests with DOJ in an effort to learn why, despite the wealth of publicly available evidence of Rep. Buchanan’s misdeeds, DOJ declined to prosecute him. The government’s response was to stonewall, under the guise of protecting Rep. Buchanan’s privacy rights and claiming the need to protect an ongoing enforcement matter. When challenged on both grounds, DOJ was forced to pull back, promising further processing of CREW’s requests.
That was six months ago and, to date, CREW has not received a single document from DOJ. But questions surrounding the legality of Rep. Buchanan’s conduct remain, as do questions about the favorable treatment members of Congress and other public officials seem to receive from DOJ. Just think of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, whose lawyers recently were able to persuade DOJ to defer indictment of the governor. When high-level elected leaders seem to get preferential treatment from DOJ, the public deserves to know why. CREW’s latest lawsuit demanding records of the Buchanan investigation is just another step in our continuing effort to hold DOJ accountable for letting corrupt government officials off the hook.
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