While some media focus has been given to the obstruction and possible\likely willful destruction of materials over at the IRS, the fact that this is a large systematic issue of the Obama administration has been ignored. Recently 47 Inspectors General from a wide variety of agencies wrote an extraordinary letter to Congress complaining:
The undersigned federal Inspectors General write regarding the serious limitations on access to records that have recently impeded the work of Inspectors General at the Peace Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Justice. Each of us strongly supports the principle that an Inspector General must have complete, unfiltered, and timely access to all information and materials available to the agency that relate to that Inspector General’s oversight activities, without unreasonable administrative burdens. . . .
We have learned that the Inspectors General for the Peace Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency (in his role as Inspector General for the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board) and the Department of Justice have recently faced restrictions on their access to certain records available to their agencies that were needed to perform their oversight work in critical areas. In each of these instances, we understand that lawyers in these agencies construed other statutes and law applicable to privilege in a manner that would override the express authorization contained in the IG Act.
Many of these IGs are Obama appointees. As Hans von Spakovsky writes:
In other words, Attorney General Eric Holder and his political subordinates only gave the IG access to these records because they decided there was nothing in them that would prove embarrassing.
But it goes deeper than that. The Administration, especially Attorney General Eric Holder, is doing something no President has ever done before. And as another RNLA Member, Professor Ronald Rotunda, explains there is in no legal justification:
A Justice Department spokesman stated that “because the documents at issue included grand jury material, credit reports, and other information whose dissemination is restricted by law, it was necessary to identify exceptions to the laws to accommodate the inspector general’s request.” However, that is a poor excuse to stonewall or slow-walk the Inspector General’s inquiry.
As Prof. Ronald Rotunda, one of the leading ethics experts in the country, says in his treatise on “Legal Ethics – The Lawyer’s Deskbook on Professional Responsibility,” while a government lawyer does have an attorney-client privilege with his client, that client is the government. Therefore, the government lawyer cannot assert the privilege to refuse to divulge information “when it is the government itself that is seeking the information.”
Thus, any privilege doctrine — whether it be attorney-client, grand jury secrecy, or premised on some other privacy interest — does not generally prevent lawyers within DOJ from providing confidential information to the lawyers working in the IG’s office, who are also DOJ employees.