The Bank Dick

The New Republic

Over fifteen years ago a young legislative aide at the CIA got the agency director to recommend him for a clerkship with a distinguished federal judge. He got the job. About eight years ago the judge had enough of judging and went to the former CIA director for help landing an ambassadorship in Latin America. He got Uruguay.

The CIA director is now president of the United States. The legislative aide, William Barr, is now George Bush’s attorney general. And the former judge, Malcolm Wilkey, his ambassadorship behind him, is now working for his former law clerk, as "special counsel" conducting the politically sensitive investigation into the House Bank.

When Barr announced Wilkey’s appointment on March 20, the media took at face value Barr’s suggestion that his purpose was to ensure impartiality and independence from political pressure. They should have been more skeptical. And when the House bowed to Wilkey’s reckless rhetoric and his sweeping subpoena for the bank’s records, including 505 current and former members’ checks, the media figured the subpoena must be OK. It wasn’t.

To the contrary, it was an act of gross prosecutorial overreaching, an affront to the constitutional status of the House and the privacy of hundreds of individuals – no less so for the fact that the courts upheld it in light of the House’s craven capitulation. Wilkey’s subpoena was only the latest episode in the Justice Department’s aggressive pursuit of the case, which looks not only like a waste of law enforcement resources, but like opportunistic exploitation of the affair for political gain as well.

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