What Happened to Public Integrity?

Capitol through Trees

Several years ago, it appeared that a number of trials were on the horizon for Members of Congress.  But outside of those caught literally and figuratively with cold hard cash, only congressional staffers and lobbyists have been held accountable, and even many of them appear to have gotten off scot free.

The message being sent by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), especially its Criminal Division's Public Integrity Section, seems to be that Members of Congress actually are above the law or at least most laws.  The announcement that the investigation into Representative Jerry Lewis's conduct had been dropped is just the latest in a long list of high-profile investigations that began with seemingly damning sets of allegations and ended with a whimper. 

Public faith in DOJ as a whole has been dealt a series of blows since the conviction of Senator Ted Stevens was overturned.  Since that disgraceful episode, where prosecutors engaged in misconduct so serious it prompted a contempt investigation, the section has been in full retreat from its investigations of Members of Congress. 

Some of those who accepted plea bargains must be kicking themselves today as the potential prosecutions from some of the highest profile scandals since Watergate have abruptly ended.  The Public Integrity Section appears to have simply folded its tents and ceded the field.  Our democracy and public faith in its government have been severely undermined.   What makes this even more troubling is that DOJ is currently led by an experienced federal prosecutor.

Rest assured, while other offices within Justice will likely be the subject of oversight hearings, it is unlikely that the Criminal Division, which appears to give Members of Congress a free pass, will be scrutinized by Congress.