Attorney General Eric Holder may be heading for the exit door at the Department of Justice (DOJ), but numerous gaps in the agency’s enforcement remain. Will the next attorney general address fraud, transparency, and oversight concerns? We recommend four issues the next attorney general can and should resolve.
Transparency: Eric Holder’s Department of Justice declared its dedication to transparency and openness, going so far as to issue a memo to all agency heads on the Freedom of Information Act, declaring, “In the face of doubt, openness prevails.” In practice, however, this is perhaps the most secretive DOJ on record. The Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee says the transparency of the Obama administration “is significantly worse than previous administrations.”
Cause of Action, a government oversight organization of which I am executive director, found that improper White House review of FOIA requests violated both the letter and spirit of FOIA. We are now suing the Department of Justice for allowing the White House to obstruct the processing of FOIA requests — an integral part of open and transparent government. The next attorney general should enforce Eric Holder’s promise of a bias toward disclosure, by taking decision-making about FOIA productions away from the White House and placing it back in agencies where it belongs.
IRS Political Targeting: Americans have known for over a year about the Internal Revenue Service’s political targeting of non-profit groups. Cause of Action first petitioned DOJ to look into this scandal in May 2013. While an investigation has begun, the DOJ assigned an attorney from the Civil Rights Division (CRD), which mostly prosecutes hate crimes cases and conspiracies to violate civil rights, to investigate the IRS. If criminal violations are uncovered in the investigation, the CRD may not have the authority to handle them, given its jurisdiction. That is why the next attorney general should appoint a special counsel to direct the investigation.
Lois Lerner’s Emails: Perhaps the most confounding part of the IRS scandal is the somehow “lost” emails of Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the heart of the scandal. Cause of Action’s investigation indicates that in losing this valuable information, multiple government officials violated the Federal Records Act, which instructs agencies to create their own regulations regarding document retention. IRS regulations, for instance, required Ms. Lerner to print and file her emails and her attachments. By failing to preserve Lerner’s records, the IRS may have violated its own regulations — and therefore the Federal Records Act.
To this day, the Department of Justice refuses to investigate this potential violation of law, so we urge the next attorney general to conduct an investigation to determine if there has been a violation of the Federal Records Act.
The Chicago Transit Authority: In 2012, Cause of Action provided the Department of Justice with evidence of up to $150 million in rampant fraud at the Chicago Transit Authority, a government entity with close ties to the current administration. As we noted at the time, DOJ has a duty to deal with this issue — the agency has the power to intervene on behalf of other federal agencies to recover misspent taxpayer dollars using the False Claims Act. DOJ declined to take up the case. Cause of Action is continuing to pursue this fraud lawsuit against the CTA because American taxpayers deserve accountability. The next attorney general should intervene in False Claims Act litigation even if they may be politically unfavorable.
We hope the next Attorney General resolves these four issues. Attorneys in the Department of Justice have a saying: “Do Justice.” Four simple steps would allow the next AG to ensure justice is done.
Dan Epstein is the Executive Director of Cause of Action.