The developing case of Congresswoman Deborah Wasserman-Schultz’s information technology officer, Imran Awan, presents the newest moral conflict.
Let’s analyze what many on our side (or any side in politics) are searching for. On one hand, we see the bloodlust for our “opponents” to fall, and even, to be injured. What’s sometimes expressed by rabid activists is the conclusion that the opponent (today, it’s DWS) is a crook, a criminal, an actual felon in waiting, and thus deserves whatever opprobrium we can muster.
There is a strategic and rational, and too-often-unspoken object (and desire), basis supporting these sentiments. The goal is to see the political opposition weakened in effectiveness. Discrediting them — at least among the sliver of the increasingly apathetic electorate which theoretically might have an open mind — in order to win over undecideds or even “flip” leaners, is thought of as advancing the ball downfield towards the end zone. Or at least, the red zone.
Or at least, a few inches away from your own end zone. This is why we go out to rallies and scream at the protestors on the other side. It’s nothing less than political trench warfare.
Lots of energy spent. Lots of loss. Little gained.
So we want to see our opponent’s downfall. But therein lies the moral quandary. How badly must the opponent suffer?
And for moral conservatives, Christian or otherwise, when does the lust for strategic gain cross into the overreach, the overzealous, even the immoral?
This brings up the other hand of the weighing process. Does possible criminality justify or rationalize our bloodlust? Do our political opponents deserve to lose their liberty, because they disagree with us?
This, my friends, is the practical, logical outcome of the chase for a scalp.
Wasserman-Schultz may personally face criminal prosecution. Her risk comes from several factors.
The federal criminal statutes are broad, and their interpretation is growing in scope to cover an ever-widening array of conduct. The “overcriminalization” trend has gotten increasing notice over the last two decades (perhaps an undesirable symptom of 9/11 and its rationalization for expanded government power), and bipartisan recognition on both sides of the congressional aisle. This trend can easily ensnare Wasserman-Schultz.
The easiest angles to pursue would be obstruction of justice and false statements. These are crimes often charged when an underlying “real” crime cannot be easily proven and the government decides to undercharge and press to prosecute on a simpler (if less deserving) charge.
Obstruction? This can cover lots of conduct taken to impede an ongoing investigation, particularly when the target (today, DWS, or her staff, or all of them) knew of the investigation.
And false statements? This is a related criminal activity, most notoriously used to prosecute Martha Stewart in the wake of insufficient evidence of her insider trading. This can cover any statement made to any government official. This is a broad statute.
When you see how broadly the criminal laws can be applied, you’ll understand why the most terrifying word in Washington is “investigation.”
Throw in the political ambitions or career resume-building of young lawyers trying to use a name prosecution — a “get” in those circles — to later become partners or even rainmakers in powerful law firms, and the ingredients are there for an investigation that will zealously pursue its prey, in search of enough evidence not to indict, but to convict (and ideally, to secure a plea deal).
In light of how these laws can be stretched and even abused, conservatives should stop and ask themselves whether this is a proper use of the fearsome power of the state.
Politics often spark efforts by the zealous to use the immense prosecutorial power of an increasingly overreaching federal government. Conservatives should show restraint and maturity, and ask themselves: Are we sure this is our side?