Public integrity is a big deal.
It is not just a vague concept of an arbitrary way of assigning a label to a leader. It is far more than that. It is vital.
It insures freedom, morality, truth, justice, fairness, kindness, and the well being of the community. It values the whole community, leveling the playing field and making justice accessible for the least powerful as well as the most powerful.
When systematized and institutionalized, it minimized disenfranchisement and brings the whole community to the table of governance and participation.
It is very difficult to maintain public integrity without accountability. That is true even if all the players are essentially honest people of good will.
It is impossible to maintain accountability without a separation of powers. In our system of government this involves:
- a legislative branch that passes laws and oversees the executives through advice and consent as well as exercise of the power to question and to impeach
- an executive branch with a sub-function of independent prosecution of violations of laws.
- a judicial branch that is independent and impartial.
When these function well, there are checks and balances.
As a non-profit executive, I learned that multiple eyes, signatures, and functions in handling money, overseen by a board of directors, insures integrity and accuracy.
Whatever the arena, there are places and functions where an executive must keep hands off the process in order to insure that things function with impartiality, fairness, and honesty. It prevents conflict of interest and appearance of impropriety.
How does that work in government?
Let's say, for instance, that an executive's activities come into question because of the actions of his or her associates. That executive, confident in his or her behaviors and integrity, allows the agency set up to investigate and prosecute, function without his or her interference or influence or the direct influence of his or her political appointees.
If a prosecution is deemed appropriate, the leader of integrity and accountability will stand back and let the process run its course.
Then, the leaders will trust the judiciary branch to do its job, adjudicate guilt or innocence, and administer appropriate correction.
In a government like ours, there is recourse if the leader feels it is appropriate to exercise it, he or she could commute a sentence or pardon an offender, but would, in almost any case, refrain if there is an appearance of conflict of interest or connection between the offense/offender and himself or herself.
In a rational world, this would be true.
There are so many sentences that could be commuted:
- people incarcerated with long sentences for relatively minor drug offenses,
- women incarcerated with life sentences for defending themselves from abusers,
- instances where there was a gross and obvious miscarriage of justice,
- and so forth
Of course, this is all quite hypothetical.
I suppose it would be very difficult for us to conceive of a leader of integrity who values accountability subverting this process for self-interest.
That is a relief.
"I think the prosecution [of Roger Stone] was righteous and I think the sentence that the judge ultimately gave was fair." -- Attorney General Bill Barr, July 8, 2020