On Thursday, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham was blocked by the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs after attempting to provide Attorney General William Barr the power to veto Inspector General (IG) investigations of Department of Justice lawyers. As reported by Bloomberg, the committee instead backed Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s proposal, co-written with Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, which provides the IG with the authority to conduct such investigations.
Former Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, who criticized Graham’s failed amendment, voiced support for IG independence to ensure they can adequately handle sensitive cases.
“We designed IGs to be very independent,” he said.
According to The Hill, Graham’s amendment, which was written with the help of current IG Michael Horowitz, was rejected in a 21-1 vote.
“I’m not going to support legislation that allows an IG to investigate discretionary decisions at the Department of Justice,” Graham said in defense of his amendment. “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 current law requires the IG to turn over any information about misconduct by DOJ lawyers and investigators to the Office of Professional Responsibility. Under Lee’s plan, the provision would be removed. According to the Utah senator, Barr has been unwilling to back the proposal, which the GOP lawmaker has been attempting to enact since Donald Trump took office.
Barr has faced criticism for his purported authoritarian impulses. Libertarian Justin Amash previously accused Barr of being a significant influence in the creation of the surveillance state and pointed to his purported support of warrantless searches and seizures. Regardless, Graham criticized Lee’s bill and claimed it would essentially give IGs the power to “basically do what they want.”
“If you don’t have some control on who decides what misconduct is, you’re going to turn the IG into a political operative,” Graham said.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, expressed concern regarding Graham’s bill and claimed that it would provide the attorney general with too much authority over the IG’s work.
According to Graham, Barr — in addition to opposing Lee’s proposal — did not voice support for his plan.
Despite taking the side of Barr, a close Trump ally, Graham recently broke with the president over accusations leveled at former President Barack Obama. As reported by Salon, Trump accused Obama of committing “treason,” which Graham suggested is not likely true.
“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” he said. “I don’t have any evidence to believe he committed treason.”