On Thursday, every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee except the panel’s chairman, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), voted in favor of legislation from Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that would expand the oversight powers of the inspector general responsible for the Department of Justice. The legislation, which was approved by the committee and now needs to be voted on by the full Senate in its journey to potentially becoming law, gives the Justice Department’s inspector general the power to investigate individual attorneys within the department.
Graham had sought to amend the legislation to require the attorney general’s approval for investigations into Justice Department attorneys, but his amendment was voted down. Referencing the supposed accountability of the attorney general in a scenario in which his amendment was enacted, Graham had said:
‘I’m not going to support legislation that allows an IG to investigate discretionary decisions at the Department of Justice. If there’s a dispute about misconduct between the IG and the attorney general, the last word will be the attorney general who is politically accountable.’
The bill’s backers had criticized efforts to water down the legislation on account of the fact that the Justice Department wasn’t exactly going to support the legislation anyway — although the department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz is apparently on board with the proposed rules change.
As Durbin put it:
‘It makes no sense to weaken this bill without the attorney general’s support.’
Lee — a very conservative Republican — had added:
‘The Department of Justice has not agreed to this compromise. It’s time to take an up or down vote as written. We shouldn’t be asked to compromise without any compromise on the other end.’
The legislation’s passage in the Judiciary Committee comes on the heels of a House Judiciary Committee hearing spotlighting some of the politicization of the Justice Department under the supposed leadership of Attorney General Bill Barr. According to witnesses including prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky and antitrust division official John Elias, Barr has pursued political moves throughout his tenure. Zelinsky said that the intervention to lower the sentencing recommendation for Trump ally Roger Stone was explicitly politically motivated, and Elias revealed that Justice Department probes targeting cannabis companies were similarly motivated, stemming from the attorney general’s personal dislike of the business.