Email #228: “outstanding oversight questions”?

When you wrote to Attorney General Sessions on Friday you told him: “you lead a Department over which the House Judiciary Committee has primary oversight jurisdiction” and “Congressional oversight is not a responsibility that we take lightly.” Although I am pleased to hear you reiterate these two essential facts, I am confused by how you are responding to your primary oversight responsibility.

In a New York Times interview last week President Trump accused the Justice Department of a wide range of inappropriateness. Regarding Special Counsel Mueller, the President said:

“Because I have done nothing wrong. A special counsel should never have been appointed in this case.”

He also accused Mueller of having a conflict of interest because Mueller applied for the position of FBI Director after the President fired James Comey:

“The next day, he is appointed special counsel. I said, what the hell is this all about? Talk about conflicts?”

Regarding acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, the President said:

“We have a director of the F.B.I., acting, who received $700,000, whose wife received $700,000 from, essentially, Hillary Clinton. ’Cause it was through [Virginia Governor] Terry [McAuliffe]. Which is Hillary Clinton…. McCabe’s wife. She got $700,000, and he’s at the F.B.I. I mean, how do you think that?”

Regarding Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, the President said:

“he gives me a letter, O.K., he gives me a letter about Comey. And by the way, that was a tough letter, O.K. Now, perhaps I would have fired Comey anyway, and it certainly didn’t hurt to have the letter, O.K. But he gives me a very strong letter, and now he’s involved in the case. Well, that’s a conflict of interest.”

Regarding Attorney General Sessions, the President said:

“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else…. It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.”

He also criticized Sessions’ Senate hearing:

“So Jeff Sessions, Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers…. he gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren’t.”

Those simple answers included: “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.” But the Washington Post reported on Friday that U.S. intelligence intercepted Russian Ambassador Kyslak’s communications to Moscow in which he describes speaking to Sessions about “campaign-related matters.” If the report is true, then the Attorney General committed perjury.

Finally, the President said of the entire Justice Department:

“Look, there are so many conflicts that everybody has.… There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”

Each one of these allegations is concerning, and since your committee has primary oversight jurisdiction for them all, I would expect your letter to the Attorney General to have addressed at least some of them. And yet you did not mention any. Instead your letter focused not on the current administration but on the Obama administration: ­

“the Judiciary Committee sent letters to your predecessors as Attorney General, and to individual DOJ components, requesting answers to a multitude of questions concerning various issues of interest stemming from Judiciary hearings and oversight responsibilities.  Many of the inquiries remain unanswered, with some outstanding requests approaching two years overdue…. we write now asking you to rectify this situation, by helping the Judiciary Committee obtain answers to outstanding oversight questions.”

Though I admire your thoroughness in wishing to close two-year-old inquiries, is it appropriate to thank Attorney General Sessions for “giving this request priority”? What about your current oversight responsibilities? What about obtaining answers to current oversight questions? Is this how you demonstrate that oversight is not a responsibility that you take lightly–by ignoring current concerns while prioritizing inconsequential ones?

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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