Email #326: “smoking gun”?

You said last Tuesday: “It is not every day in congressional investigations that we find a smoking gun. Here, we have it.”

The “gun” was Justice Department emails from 2014 regarding the use of money that it obtains from corporate wrongdoers that settle lawsuits by paying fines. You said these “internal DOJ documents” show that “the donation provisions were structured to aid the Obama administration’s political friends and exclude conservative groups.” The emails specifically show that this structuring was accomplished by Associate Attorney General Tony West who was thanked by groups who received funds.

Attorney General Sessions ended the “slush fund” last June, saying:

“When the federal government settles a case against a corporate wrongdoer, any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people — not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power. Unfortunately, in recent years the Department of Justice has sometimes required or encouraged defendants to make these payments to third parties as a condition of settlement. With this directive, we are ending this practice and ensuring that settlement funds are only used to compensate victims, redress harm, and punish and deter unlawful conduct.”

I agree with the Attorney General, and I thank you for leading the House Judiciary Committee in this worthwhile investigation that produced useful results.

However, I am confused by your statement about the rarity of “smoking guns.” It seems the Trump administration has provided several that the House Judiciary Committee is choosing to ignore.

According to official Oval Office documents, President Trump said to Russian foreign minister Lavrov and Russian ambassador Kislyak on May 10, 2017: “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. I’m not under investigation.” That was the day after the President fired Director Comey.

Like Associate Attorney General Tony West’s emails, the statement contradicts the administration’s official claims, specifically that the FBI Director was fired not because but despite his leading an investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.

The difference of course is that West is several tiers down the administration hierarchy. The equivalent would be if you had discovered White House emails from President Obama directing the Justice Department to give settlement funds to leftwing organizations. And even if such documents existed, the severity of the misbehavior would be significantly lower. It would not, for example, constitute obstruction of justice and possible grounds for impeachment.

But technically your statement is true. Your House Judiciary Committee did not find this “smoking gun” in its “congressional investigation” because your committee is not holding an investigation into the firing of Director Comey even though oversight of the Justice Department is your primary responsibility.

Instead you’re reading emails from 2014.

At this rate of oversight, will you begin investigating the current administration in 2020?

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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