After a decade of ever-rising politico-media Freak Show tribal politics, one counter trend development has stood out: the relative infrequence of calls for independent counsels. Given the pervasive culture of the politics of personal destruction, neither party has been able to stomach the addition of an untethered prosecutor with an unlimited budget. The law creating a system for special prosecutors was allowed to lapse at the end of the Clinton administration, with bipartisan assent. Republicans and Democrats alike have largely given up their once-routine demands for independent counsels to investigate alleged executive branch wrongdoing by the other party.
Of course, in theory, outside investigators can be a good thing, to make sure that investigations of potential wrongdoing by senior officials are free, both in appearance and reality, from political interference. But in the current climate, the practice, starting in the Reagan years, became one of the most dangerous and corrosive tools of partisan combat.
So it has been discouraging to see some Republicans demand an independent counsel in the case of the recent national security leaks from the Obama administration. The Justice Department has asked two United States Attorneys with stellar reputations to look into the matter, but that is not enough for some, including Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham. And on “Fox News Sunday,” Liz Cheney suggested a special prosecutor might be necessary:
CHENEY: I’d like to see an independent investigation. I’d like to see an investigation …I don’t think it has to be an independent counsel. I think you could in fact have independent review of it.”
Such a comment from Cheney, whose family friend Scooter Libby was stalked and indicted by Patrick Fitzgerald, one of the few independent counsels of the Bush era, is a worrisome indication that the rare bipartisan truce may be at an end, in a city where open warfare rages nonstop.