Obstruction of justice

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Obstruction of justice

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Lee Ha-kyung
The author is the editor in chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Last week’s reshuffle of top prosecutors was a massacre. Prosecutors who were investigating key members of the Blue House and the Moon Jae-in administration, including former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, were demoted en masse after only six months. Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae accused Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl of insubordination for his refusal to meet with her to discuss the reshuffle. Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon openly issued a warning to Yoon, and Choo ordered her aides to research regulations to punish Yoon. As the prosecution argues that the justice minister tried to bypass Yoon in the reshuffle, the opposition Liberty Korea Party is threatening an impeachment of Choo.

Two conflicting versions of an incident have been described. It is the Rashomon effect, which refers to contradictory interpretations of the same event by different people. A community in which different versions of the truth are constantly battling — although there should be one absolute truth — has no future. What is important is not the frame, but the substance. Let’s restructure what has happened — from the perspective of Prosecutor General Yoon.

“On the evening of Jan. 7, one day before the reshuffle, Minister Choo abruptly telephoned me and requested me to send an appointment plan by the morning for the next day,” Yoon would say. “Based on tradition, I asked her to send me the basic plan of the Justice Ministry first. She said she did not have a reshuffle proposal. So I asked her what she meant. I asked her how the prosecution could offer comments when the ministry did not have any plan. She said that as the Blue House was handling everything, she could not overstep the president’s authority. I told her to get the plan from the Blue House and send it to me. Then she said she was not in a close relationship with the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, who was handling the matter. She said I should contact him and get it.

“So I instructed a prosecutor to call the Blue House and send me the reshuffle plan. The Blue House officials, then, reacted frantically saying it does not make sense. The Blue House said it would contact the Justice Ministry to send the plan to the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office. Then, the vice minister and a director of the Justice Ministry telephoned me and apologized. They said they would send the plan before the morning of Jan. 8, but it didn’t arrive.

“Then at 9:30 a.m., the ministry told me that Choo wanted to have a consultation with me and asked me to show up in her office at the ministry by 10:30 a.m. — only 30 minutes before the final meeting of the reshuffle review committee. It is a tradition that a prosecutor general visits the justice minister to exchange greetings when the minister is newly appointed. However, as we are both minister-level officials, I was not obliged to show up. I asked the ministry to respect the protocol. I repeated that they must send me the appointment plan first, and I would respond in a document if they wanted. I also offered to meet at a third location if they wanted a verbal consultation.

“The minister said she would wait until 4:30 p.m., telling me to meet her at the ministry. I told her that I could not go and that she should send me the plan first. If she couldn’t, I told her to make the appointments as she wished. She, then, took her plan to the Blue House, got President Moon Jae-in’s approval, and announced it. She later told the National Assembly that I disobeyed her. That’s a lie.”

The absolute truth is in God’s territory. But the process is being revealed that the administration had planned a “massacre” of prosecutors to obstruct investigations into the administration but did not inform the prosecutor general of the reshuffle, while labeling him as insubordinate.

The administration’s message is clear. It is demanding Yoon resign. It applauded when Yoon went after two former Presidents — Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak — but changed its mind when the prosecution started going after the powers that be. The administration has forgot the tragic impeachment of Park over the Choi Soon-sil scandal after she tried to stop the prosecution’s probe into Woo Byung-woo, a senior presidential secretary for civil affairs at the time.

“They can make a reshuffle any way they want. I can do my job with any prosecutors,” Yoon said. “I will not hesitate to use all bullets available.”

Will Moon kill the dog after his hunting is over? If not, he must tell the public that he has no intention to do so.

The liberals are creating the Rashomon effect to hide their weakness. They would probably resent Yoon out of the conviction that they are trying to realize justice yet Yoon was trying to inflict a fatal wound on them. But the laws of a republic are not a matter of personal bargaining. Justice is important, but rule of law is also important.

Attempting to embody justice while ignoring the rule of law is an act of treason that denies the integrity of a republic. This administration’s unreasonable high-handedness constitutes obstruction of justice. Both U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton faced impeachment for their use of their office to obstruct justice.

During the era of dictatorships that infringed on the people’s basic rights, there was no reason to respect laws that would benefit the establishment. But democratization has come, and this is the third presidency won by the liberals. When the rule of law is ignored, the country goes back to a dictatorship — or a dynasty. We are fed up with both dynasties and dictatorships. Do we really have to endure a “leftist dictatorship”? They must abandon their greed and uphold the rule of law to systemize the democracy of a republic.

“The prosecutor general has disobeyed my order,” Minister Choo tersely told the National Assembly. But the interpretation of Prof. Chin Jung-kwon, a former liberal icon, is quite different. “You have privatized the power that the people have bestowed on. You are the thieves,” he attacked.

It is anachronistic for the administration to think it can do anything and will be forgiven just because it is on the side of justice. When the rule of law is upheld and the prosecution checks those in power, this administration will have its legitimacy. The moment of the liberals’ collapse is nearing. I wonder where this country is going?

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 13, Page 31

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