One year into the Trump presidency, Congress confronts two major problems – the possibility of FBI abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process (FISA), and the dilemma of what to do with illegal immigrants – that are both the residue of the wide-scale lawlessness that characterized the Obama administration.
After all, what’s the point of having laws on the books, if they’re not going to be enforced? In fact, not enforcing a law on the books is worse than never having put the law on the books at all; not only is the social ill that was to be prevented by the law allowed to go unchecked, but failure to enforce the one law encourages erosion of the very concept of the rule of law, and lessens the likelihood of enforcing other laws. Far better not to have a law on the books if it’s not going to be enforced.
Thirty-five years ago, professors James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling published their seminal “Broken Windows,” in which they observed:
“Social psychologists and police officers tend to agree that if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. This is as true in nice neighborhoods as in rundown ones. Window-breaking does not necessarily occur on a large scale because some areas are inhabited by determined window-breakers whereas others are populated by window-lovers; rather, one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing.”
During the Obama administration, many signals were sent that no one – at least no one in power – cared. Many, many windows, so to speak, were broken, and virtually all of them were left unrepaired. Breaking more windows cost nothing.
It began early, when Mr. Obama ordered his administration to use TARP – meant to bail out financial institutions – to take over GM and Chrysler. Then he appointed a “car czar” without Senate confirmation, and directed the Chrysler bailout to favor the unsecured union pension funds over secured bondholders, in direct contravention of bankruptcy law.
It continued with the implementation of ObamaCare, which featured routine failures to enforce aspects of the law the Obama administration felt were politically inconvenient – like the law’s clear requirement that members of Congress and their staffs enroll in the appropriate ObamaCare exchange (which, incidentally, is the D.C. individual market, which prohibits subsidies from large employers). Not wanting to lose their generous subsidies for health insurance, members of Congress were in an uproar. Mr. Obama came to the rescue by illegally directing the Office of Personnel Management to take care of it, which it did, by fraudulently claiming that Congress was a “small business” and could lie on its ObamaCare applications and enroll in the incorrect exchange.
And, of course, there was the failure to hold anyone accountable for the IRS targeting scandal, perhaps the worst abuse of government power against its own citizens since, well, since I don’t know when. A determined cabal of left-wing bureaucrats abused IRS rules to prevent their fellow citizens from exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and free association, and to petition their government, and whatever happened to any of those IRS officials? When Congress began to investigate, hard drives “crashed,” tens of thousands of emails were lost, backup drives were destroyed, and witnesses refused to testify before Congress. When a criminal referral was sent to an Obama-appointed U.S. Attorney General, the office declined prosecution. Was a single person sent to jail? Was a single person ever even prosecuted? Hell, did anyone even lose retirement benefits? Not to my knowledge.
It wasn’t just lawlessness against regular citizens, though. In the summer of 2016, the FBI concluded its months-long “investigation” of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified intelligence, determining that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges against her for what was termed her “extremely careless” handling of classified intelligence. We now know, of course, that then-FBI Director James Comey’s statement exonerating Mrs. Clinton was drafted months before she was even interviewed by the FBI; that the original draft was heavily edited, to water it down and remove terms like “grossly negligent” that carry criminal implications; and that – contrary to Mr. Comey’s declaration – then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch knew ahead of his statement that he would not recommend prosecution against Mrs. Clinton. Looking back in hindsight, it sure looks like the fix was in.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Congress seems to be getting ready to address the lawlessness of millions of illegal immigrants not by enforcing the laws that have been on the books for decades, but instead by simply changing the law to ensure they are no longer in violation, because recognizing that they are in violation of the law and enforcing it is politically inconvenient and would require taking action that few wish to take.
Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee has produced a document that seems to indict certain individuals in the FBI and the Obama-era Department of Justice for their abuse of the FISA process and what may turn out to be illegal surveillance of American citizens. What makes this most troubling, of course, is that such actions were taken by the very people tasked with enforcing the law. If it turns out they broke the law, many American citizens are going to wonder, with justification, just who can be trusted?
The rule of law, chronically neglected during the Obama years, requires immediate repair work. If Congress wants to repair the broken windows of the Obama years, it can start by relentlessly pursuing the FISA abuse scandal, and continue repairing as it works through immigration legislation.
Jenny Beth Martin