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Department of Justice: 44 Years without Congress’ Re-Authorization

William L. Kovacs

June 2023

Department of Justice: 44 Years without Congress’ Re-Authorization

In 1998, Henry Hyde, then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, noted, “Authorization [the congressional reauthorization process to renew laws] is the process by which Congress creates, amends, and extends programs in response to national needs. Authorization is perhaps the most important oversight tool that a committee can employ…” Most laws are authorized for 3 -5 years and need reauthorization at the end of that time period.

Chairman Hyde’s efforts were the last serious attempt by Congress to comprehensively reauthorize the statutory authority of the Department of Justice. Regrettably, the overall activities of the Department of Justice were last formally reauthorized by Congress in 1979.

In light of this background and the recent Horowitz and Durham reports, the American people should not wonder why the Department of Justice and its FBI act as a crime syndicate. DOJ has not been supervised or questioned by Congress in almost a half-century. It has been given whatever it requested; its indolence has been tolerated.  Now it is an uncontrollable plague on the nation that initiates false investigations of its enemies and hides real criminal activity from the public.

The reauthorization process for laws and Executive agencies is hard work. It requires a complete review, approval, amendment, or repeal of every statute within the jurisdiction of the agency being examined. Unfortunately, Congress flaunts its own rules requiring it to reauthorize expired laws. House of Representatives Rule XXI provides that “[A]n appropriation may not be reported in a general appropriation bill…for an expenditure not previously authorized by law…” Compliance with this rule would seem to ensure Departments like DOJ could not be funded without being reauthorized. Congress gets around this rule by waiving it. Chairman Hyde describes this waiver process as “The de facto ceding of the authorization power to appropriators.” Hyde concludes such a process diminishes the role of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

As far back as  2002, Senator Grassley, in a letter to DOJ, described the agency as one that encroached [interfered] on many of the essential investigations of other federal agencies. He also noted there was a two-tiered system of justice, with the senior officials prosecuting one way and the rank and file another way. The Senator concluded that the DOJ’s Federal Bureau of Investigation shows “a contempt for any public or private entity that dares to question its motives or performance.”

While a few DOJ programs, e.g., violence against women and the FISA activities, were reauthorized by Congress, the overall reauthorization of the DOJ as an Executive agency has escaped oversight for 44 years. It should be noted that under FISA, the DOJ and FBI filed false affidavits with the court, proving even a reauthorization review cannot catch professional fraudsters.

In its 2023 Budget request, DOJ requests $6.2 billion for literally hundreds of programs that have not been reviewed by Congress in decades. It also filed a 2022-2026 Strategic Plan. Goal 1 of its Strategic Plan is to “Uphold the Rule of Law.” It will achieve this goal by protecting the country’s Democratic institutions and promoting good government. These commitments are made while it refuses to comply with congressional information requests, hides information to protect Hunter Biden, refuses to allow Congress to examine bank records, invents the Russian collusion scandal to tarnish a sitting president and raids the home of a former president for possessing classified documents while giving the sitting president weeks to gather documents. This is the DOJ/FBI “rule of law.”

If any agency in the U.S. government is in need of oversight, it is DOJ. It is the duty of Congress to undertake the full reauthorization process, including:

A review of every program from litigation to community policing to state and local grants. Any program that cannot justify that it has accomplished the intent of the statute creating it or failed to protect the rule of law should be immediately defunded.

A review of all alleged criminal activity by the DOJ and FBI so the committee can assess the honesty or criminality of the organization. To achieve this goal, the DOJ and FBI leaders for the past decade should be granted Use Immunity so they testify honestly, without fear of incriminating themselves. Only by granting such immunity will a criminal testify to the truth. Otherwise, the agencies will again assert many objections to answering questions. The granting of Use Immunity opened the flood of testimony in the Watergate hearings, it is time to grant it again so Congress can reform the DOJ and FBI.

The difficult policy questions should be asked. Should the billions for Community-based programs be converted to block grants to state and local governments? Does an organization like the FBI that refuses to cooperate with Congress deserve billions of dollars for a flashy new building? Has Congress transferred too many new programs to DOJ/FBI, such as counterterrorism, counterintelligence, weapons of mass destruction deterrence, and cyber security? Should all of these programs be transferred to other agencies to preserve the rule of law?

What would a restructuring of the DOJ and FBI look like? This is the obvious question. Unfortunately, there is no obvious answer. Rather than protecting Democracy, these massive agencies are a threat to Democracy. Congress needs to determine what it wants the DOJ/FBI to do. Are they just law enforcement agencies as prior to 9/11, or are they to be the master of the law enforcement circus as they are now?

Next, Congress needs to determine – what is working at DOJ/FBI that needs to be preserved. What is broken but can be fixed to work? What is so corrupt it is harmful and must be eliminated due to its harm to Democracy? The reauthorization process gives Congress the opportunity to answer these essential questions needed to preserve our Democracy.

William L. Kovacs has served as senior vice president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, chief counsel to a congressional committee, and a partner in law D.C. law firms. His book Reform the Kakistocracy is the winner of the 2021 Independent Press Award for Political/Social Change. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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  • The Judgment Fund – The Mother of all Slush Funds

The Judgment Fund – The Mother of all Slush Funds

William L. Kovacs

January 2022

The Judgment Fund – The Mother of all Slush Funds

Remember when the media reported the Biden administration was contemplating paying illegal migrant families $450,000 per person as a settlement for separating the children from their parent(s). Did you ever ask where would the money come from? Did Congress ever enact a specific appropriation for its payment? The answer is simple – it comes from the Judgment Fund which is the mother of all slush funds. Nothing in the world is comparable to it other than dictators stealing the treasury of a nation. In the U.S., Congress has made such secret payments legal and routine.

The Judgment Fund pays judgments against the United States and settlements agreed to by the Department of Justice. It is a fund that does not disclose the receipt of the payments or settlements even when the actions establish major agency policy or when requested by congressional appropriators. It is a fund without accountability or transparency since the federal agencies making the payments will not provide Congress or taxpayers information about who was paid by the fund.

How does the Judgment Fund work? It is a permanent, indefinite, and unlimited congressional appropriation continuously available to pay money judgments entered against the United States and settlements of cases in or likely to be in litigation with the United States. As an indefinite appropriation, it is so secret that Congress no longer even debates what the amounts are for. The amounts are appropriated, no matter what the amount. The Department of the Treasury just pays the claims when the proper paperwork is presented to it.

How did such a fund come about? Prior to 1956 Congress actually appropriated funds to pay for every single judgment against the United States. Under this procedure, Congress was actually aware of what claims were being made against the United States and was able to evaluate the actions of the agencies being sued.

In 1956 Congress passed the Judgment Fund Act to provide for payment of most judgments against the United States without the need for individual appropriations. The congressional justification was to enhance the efficiency of the appropriations process. In 1961 Congress amended the statute to pay for settlements in addition to judgments but with a ceiling on such payments of $100,000. In 1977 Congress eliminated the ceiling and now the fund is available to pay any covered judgment or settlement, regardless of amount.

The Judgment Fund functions as an automatic withdrawal from the nation’s treasury. Moreover, the payments made to satisfy a judgment against the US or to settle the alleged illegal activity of the agency, do not come out of the agency’s budget.  There is no penalty to the agency for misconduct or illegal activity since payments do not have to be reimbursed unless Congress appropriated funds to the agency for such payments. Simply, agencies are not required to pay for their misconduct or unlawful activities.

What payments have been made under the Judgment Fund? While the Department of the Treasury provides a list of payments and the amounts, it does not identify who received the payments. In a 2016 article, Politico described how federal agencies, using the Judgment Fund, hid more than $4.3 billion in payment to settle sexual harassment complaints. In 2020, the Judgment Fund paid out nearly 7,500 payments totaling over $14 billion.

Even after the House and Senate, Committees on Appropriations requested details concerning the names of claimants, the amounts to be paid and a description of the facts, the Treasury continued its refusal to provide the information to Congress. Moreover, the Obama administration settled over sixty lawsuits with environmental groups. It is likely it utilized the Judgment Fund since there was no other money appropriated to Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) to settle lawsuits. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know since the EPA, like all federal agencies, refuses to release the names of the recipients

Are there limits to these secret payments? Unless there is a specific statute authorizing payments in a different manner, there are no limits to payments from the Judgment Fund. According to a September 7, 2016, House Judiciary Committee report, Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, the Obama administration likely used the Judgment Fund to settle the $1.7 billion payment to the Islamic Republic of Iran for claims made on the sale of military equipment before the 1979 Iranian Revolution. This is the incident in which the US flew planeloads of cash, in foreign currencies, to Iran as part of what could be termed a ransom payment for American prisoners.

It is time for Congress to take seriously one of its main legislative responsibilities; its control over the nation’s purse as required by Article I, section 9, clause 7 of our Constitution. It can no longer leave the Executive branch with blank checks to be used when needing money to make secret payments, most times for wrongdoing. It is time for our government to be honest with us about what it spends and the recipients of its spending. After all, it is our money!

William L. Kovacs has served as senior vice-president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, chief-counsel to a congressional committee, a partner in law D.C. law firms, and his book Reform the Kakistocracy is the winner of the 2021 Independent Press Award for Political/Social Change.