“The Justice Department is probably the most dangerous domestic department in the executive branch when you have someone who is willing to abuse its power,” Hans Von Spakovsky, Senior Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told Townhall in an exclusive interview, “it can break and ruin and put in prison any individual, any company, any business; and that is enormous power and you don’t want that in the wrong hands by people who are willing to misuse that power.”
In their latest book, “Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department,” Spakovsky and National Review columnist John Fund expose the corruption swarming through the the Department of Justice under Attorney General Eric Holder’s watch. Spakovsky spoke with me last week to discuss their undertaking and why it matters.
Q: Has much changed since your time working inside the DOJ? How did having inside sources add to the book’s value?
Spakovsky: What I found is that it has gotten even worse under the administration. I mean, there were bad things there when I was there, including out of control career people, but now there are really no adults in charge with this administration and so they can be just as radical and crazy as they want to be, and abusive.
Having people inside to talk to us, and tell us what’s going on there now, I think adds a lot to the book. Particularly some of the most shocking things that we heard from folks who are there is about how politicized the department has become, far worse than under any prior attorney general.
Q: What unexpected discoveries surfaced as you wrote the book?
Spakovsky: John and I both kind of monitor the Justice Department and what is going on over there, but even we were shocked by the number of cases we found that had been thrown out by judges accusing the department of prosecutorial abuse. You know that happens occasionally, but we were surprised by how often it has been happening under the Holder Justice Department.
Q: In February, Eric Holder told state attorneys general they need not adhere to state bans on same-sex marriage if they personally found it unconstitutional. Have any of Holder’s predecessors encouraged this type of blatant disregard for the law?
Spakovsky: No. His predecessors have not tried to get people to behave that way. We have an entire chapter, in fact, about that very issue. Which is Eric Holder’s lawlessness. His willingness to not enforce the law, not to defend the law, which is his duty as the Attorney General. The talk that he gave to the state attorneys general, urging them to do the same thing, was him basically trying to spread the poison that he has put into the U.S. Justice Department and he is trying to spread that poison down into the states. In fact, many of the attorneys general were shocked that he would urge them to do such a thing. We actually have a part in the book where we have a source who is an assistant to one of the state attorneys general who was in the room when Holder was saying this.
Q: Have Holder’s lawless actions done permanent damage to the future of the DOJ?
Spakovsky: Oh yeah, there is no question. I'll give you just a quick example, and that is: he has completely corrupted the Office of Legal Counsel. The Office of Legal Counsel has always been kind of a revered office within the Justice Department. Its job is to provide the attorney general, and most importantly the president, with opinions on the constitutionality of their actions and legislation proposed by congress. It has always been truly a non-partisan office. It doesn't matter what administration, Republican or Democrat, has been in the White House – they’ve always had officers of the highest quality who give a true legal opinion, not necessarily the one their bosses want. He has completely corrupted that office so that now it provides the opinions that they want it to provide and we give some specific examples of that in the book.
Q: How do you think this is a bipartisan issue?
Spakovsky: I think liberals should understand that Holder is setting a very bad precedent. He is setting a precedent that he won’t enforce or defend laws that he personally doesn’t like or that the president doesn’t like. Well, if he can do that, then a future president, a future Republican president and a future Republican attorney general, can do the same thing. While liberals might like the policy effect of what the attorney general is doing, they might not like the policy effect of a future attorney general who decides to ignore or not enforce a particular law that has been passed that liberals like.
Q: What would you like to see moving forward?
Spakovsky: The most important thing is leadership at the top, that means you have to have a president who puts in an ethical, highly professional attorney general. One whose interest in justice are higher than his or her interest in politics.
There are a few structural changes that could be made, such as giving the Inspector General of Justice authority over the ethical and unethical conduct of the lawyers who work there. I also think there are statutes that could be passed to implement a memo, that we discuss in the book that Ronald Reagan put in, to try to prevent what's called "collusive settlements." Which is, settlements that the government enters into with its political allies, advocacy groups, to try to get a regulation or other outcome that they normally wouldn’t be able to get under the law.
But, it’s going to be very difficult to undo much of the damage that Holder has done.