The special counsel rowThe appointment of an independent counsel to investigate President Lee Myung-bak’s suspicious purchase of a retirement residence in the posh Gangnam District is creating a political stir. The Blue House has called for new nominations for the post after candidates were onesidedly picked by the opposition Democratic United Party. The Blue House argues it is inappropriate for the president to put a final stamp on an independent counsel candidate recommended by the DUP if it is having a sharp disagreement over the choice with the ruling Saenuri Party.
The Saenuri Party has called for new nominations for the special prosecutor and criticized the DUP for violating an earlier agreement that the prosecutor would be nominated after a full consultation between the two parties. But the DUP rebuts that argument by saying there is no need for new nominations as it retains the right to recommend the counsel.
Amid such a tense tug of war, two options are left for the Blue House: either veto the appointment of the counsel or accept it. As a refusal of the appointment would be against the law, however, President Lee must approve the counsel to avert violating the law.
Of course, the Blue House and ruling camp’s worries are understandable. The law on independent counsels has been under attack for the clause that mandates opposition parties recommend the candidates. But the fairness of an investigation is also at stake when an accuser obtains the right to probe a presidential practice.
The two candidates proposed by the DUP are widely recognized as pro-opposition lawyers with strong liberal backgrounds. The DUP should not have guaranteed a political controversy by picking nominees with combative political affiliations and should have recommended more neutral candidates.
Lee must appoint one of the two candidates if he does not want to violate the special law that passed the National Assembly. Independent counsels are the legislative branch’s tool for holding the executive branch in check. It is also a political action to reinvestigate a closed case when investigations by the prosecution, which is under the jurisdiction of the administration, are not satisfactory. Moreover, Lee’s case involves not only him but his relatives as well.
When and if the Blue House accepts a special counsel recommended by the opposition, he must do his job objectively and with thorough political neutrality given that the special prosecutor’s term coincides with a presidential campaign.
The Blue House must immediately approve the DUP’s nomination of a special prosecutor, and the prosecutor must vow to keep neutrality in his investigation.