News and Commentary

Report: DOJ Routinely Lets High-Ranking Officials Get Away With Crimes, Policy Violations
Former FBI Director James Comey speaks at Harvard Kennedy School with Harvard's Eric Rosenbach on February 24, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Paul Marotta/Getty Images

A new report highlights how the Department of Justice routinely fails to prosecute high-ranking department officials despite criminal referrals from the department’s inspector general.

RealClearInvestigations (my former employer) examined several instances of DOJ employees committing crimes but not getting prosecuted. For example, an FBI attorney shoplifted from the Marine Corps Base Quantico Exchange multiple times before getting caught with $257.99 worth of stolen cosmetics. She admitted to also stealing from other stores but wasn’t prosecuted.

“Not that it was a surprise. The Justice Department regularly declines to prosecute high-ranking current and former department officials, even when its Office of Inspector General provides the grounds for it,” the outlet reported. “The Department of Justice OIG does not keep complete public records on the number of prosecutions that result from its investigations. But the office does keep track of certain cases – those involving wrongdoing by senior DoJ managers and officials that Justice declines to prosecute.”

In 2019 alone, the OIG “issued 27 such reports of alleged wrongdoing by senior Justice Department officials and employees that went unprosecuted – everything from nepotism in hiring, to making false claims on mortgage documents, to ‘lack of candor’ with federal investigators, to sexual assault.” You might recall the “lack of candor” crime, as it related to former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lying to federal prosecutors regarding his role into the false claims that President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia to steal the election.

Former FBI Director James Comey was also referred for prosecution by the OIG.

“By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment,” the OIG wrote in its report on the lack of prosecution, “Comey set a dangerous example.” The OIG sent its findings to the DOJ, but “After reviewing the matter, the Department declined prosecution.”

As RCI reported, it’s “much harder to find cases of senior officials who are found by the OIG to have committed wrongdoing and are subsequently prosecuted.” One person who was actually prosecuted was Barbara Zoccola, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Memphis who was caught “falsifying her time and attendance records.”

RCI suggested it was “rare” for the DOJ to prosecute criminals referred to it by its own OIG:

For example, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia – who would have jurisdiction over misconduct committed in Washington – puts out press releases announcing indictments and convictions. In 2019 there were press releases regarding any number of murders, robberies, and molestations – the all too common crimes of any big city. But Washington being the seat of government, there were announcements of indictments and convictions of government employees, including cases of bribery at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and at Veterans Affairs, as well as espionage at the departments of State and Defense. But none of the 2019 releases involved wrongdoing by senior DOJ officials.

In addition to not getting prosecuted, it also appears top DOJ officials don’t usually get publicly named for their crimes.

The difference was most start with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the allegations of Russian collusion. Mueller “repeatedly used the full force of the law to convict associates of President Trump of process crimes, especially the crime of making false statements to government investigators,” RCI reported, while DOJ officials who did the same received no punishment.

Further, former high-ranking officials get off scot free for crimes such as impersonating a government official or using one’s position for special treatment:

A former deputy assistant attorney general was not happy that his brother was sharing a hospital room with another patient. A January 2019 OIG report states that he called the hospital claiming he was “the No. 4 person with the Department of Justice.” Leveraging that falsehood, the former Justice official demanded his brother be moved to a private room. The hospital complied.

When questioned by agents of the Department of Justice Inspector General, the former high-ranking attorney readily admitted he had committed “an ethical violation.” He “also agreed that his conduct amounted to the impersonation of a government official.”

Still, he was not prosecuted. DOJ spokesperson Wyn Hornbuckle told RCI that high-ranking department officials get no special treatment.

“The Department of Justice expects all employees to hold themselves to the highest standards of ethical and professional conduct,” he told the outlet. “The department takes allegations of employee misconduct seriously, including claims that employees lacked candor when dealing with investigators, and has a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment in the workplace.” The evidence suggests otherwise.