Over the past 20 years or so, Congress, especially when controlled by the GOP, has evolved from a legislative body to an investigative body.
One of the people who played a central role in institutionalizing the culture of endless inquiries was Kenneth Starr, who died Tuesday at age 76 following surgery. Starr was a longtime Republican agent, judge, and, in his later years, college president and conservative commentator. However, he will be best remembered for his role as an independent advocate during the administration of President Bill Clinton. Starr held this position from 1994 to 1999.
Because Congress has always been a check on the executive branch, oversight is a natural part of its mission. But in recent years, investigating has become a way for her to limit executive power by setting the president’s agenda.
Because Congress has always been a check on the executive branch, oversight is a natural part of its mission. But in recent years, investigating has become a way for her to limit executive power by setting the president’s agenda. If the president and an administration have to respond to a series of inquiries, they are more likely to divert their attention from other governance issues.
The relevance and legitimacy of these surveys vary and are often viewed from a partisan angle. For example, Democrats usually seen first arraignment case against Donald Trump as legitimate while seeing the investigation of Hillary Clinton after the Benghazi drama as a politically motivated waste of time. Republicans, however, saw these events in exactly the opposite way.
Starr was not the first independent attorney assigned to investigate a presidential scandal. Among his notable predecessors was Archibald Cox, the Independent Watergate Advocate. About 15 years later, Lawrence Walsh served as a special prosecutor in the administration of Ronald Reagan, focusing primarily on the Iran-Contra scandal.
What made Starr unusual was that his wallet was so large. His investigation began in 1994, probing Bill and Hillary Clinton’s investment in property in Arkansas, which ended up being known as living water and offered no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Clintons. This investigation led to address issues far removed from cronyism, corruption or real estate in Arkansas.
The problem that led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 was not financial corruption. Instead, Starr turned his attention to Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and the extent to which Clinton was being truthful when testifying about it. An investigation into the real estate dealings turned to the president’s infidelity, not because the two were related, but because Starr interpreted his mandate extremely broadly.
This was a turning point in the use of congressional investigations. Republicans in Congress, especially after Clinton’s re-election in 1996, used an investigation to try to rule a popular president. But this plan failed. When the Republicans lost seats in the House and won no Senate seats in the 1998 midterm elections, it proved that the strong economy of the 1990s was more important to voters than anything Starr and the GOP could dig up about the Clintons.
Nonetheless, the approach remained a tool that Republicans continued to use, generating media and political support rather than indictments or impeachments.
We saw this again under the Obama administration which, by most measureswas one of the most ethical in modern history. Yet beginning in 2011, after the GOP took control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections, the Republican-led Congress investigated the administration for allegedly using the IRS for political purposes, his support of the energy company Solyndra, and a program run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that attempted to track illegal sales weapons near the southern border. These were better understood as political missteps than presidential scandals, but it was the framework the GOP found more effective.
The Obama administration’s most notorious and time-consuming investigation took place around Benghazi. It also targeted 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who had served as secretary of state in 2012 when the attacks on Benghazi occurred. Benghazi has been investigated by five House standing committees and a select committee. The select committee’s investigation took over two years and cost nearly $8 million. His report found that the Obama administration had been incompetent, but that led to no indictments. For years, the GOP-led Congress has focused on investigations rather than trying to pass laws or govern.
There are certainly times when investigations are appropriate, but problems arise when political parties use them not as a tool to obtain information from the administration but simply to hog the energy and time of key government personnel. ‘administration.
If, as seems likely, Republicans regain the House in November, they have signaled their willingness to start investigations on all of Nancy Pelosi’s role in the attempted January 6, 2021 insurrection – yes, you read that right – to the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and, of course, to Hunter Biden’s laptop. Many Republicans in Congress mistakenly believe that Pelosi had some control over bringing police to the Capitol when Trump supporters raped him. These events are all best understood as political differences or, in the case of the Capitol Police, conservative fantasy rather than scandals worthy of investigation. They would completely hijack the administration of President Joe Biden while keeping the GOP base mobilized.
There are certainly times when investigations are appropriate, but problems arise when political parties use them not as a tool to obtain information from the administration but simply to hog the energy and time of key government personnel. ‘administration. The question of which investigations are deserved and which are not is subjective, but Congress has lost its way when investigations replace passing laws that help people across the United States.
The right – both in power and in the media – loves to call the January 6 investigation a political witch hunt. However, a basic understanding of reality suggests that the attack on Capitol Hill is worth investigating while impeaching Biden for the poor management of the withdrawal from Afghanistan is absurd. Congressional Republicans have already introduced articles of impeachment against Biden, all but guaranteeing a lengthy investigation into a poorly implemented policy that is nowhere near an impeachable offense.
In 2023, if House Republicans dominate the news exploring what Pelosi said to Capitol police or reviving the 2020 election and investigate election fraud it turned out to be groundless, we have to remember the role Starr played in all of this. He helped create a model that uses the investigation not as a means to get to the bottom of a scandal but to weaken, distract and harass a presidential administration. It’s a big part of the legacy he left.