Stewart Walz: Lee should know more about the law than this

(Stefani Reynolds | Pool via AP) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah,, questions Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett during the second day of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.

One of the first things I learned during my career of over 41 years as a lawyer for two departments of the U.S. government was just because you can, does not mean that you should.

The law gives great power and latitude to an agency, but the exercise of power does not always do credit to, or enhance the image of, the agency. Citizens have a right to expect that their government will behave in a fair way. When an agency or branch of the government acts unfairly, its credibility diminishes.

As stated at the outset of the television series “Rebellion,” “Law only functions when society believes in it.”

How does a branch of government act fairly? There is no simple answer, but one way to act appropriately is to be driven by facts as opposed to hypothesis, guess or even politics.

Sen. Mike Lee should know this.

The man who taught me to be fact-driven is federal Judge Dee Benson, who died Monday, who was the U.S. attorney about 30 years ago. Lee clerked for Benson before the senator became an assistant U.S. attorney. Apparently, the senator failed to pick up the idea of having a factual predicate for his actions from Benson, his colleagues at the U.S. attorney’s office, or even from Justice Samuel Alito, for whom he clerked twice.

The senator has argued that the president has a right to challenge the results of the election. Yes, he does, but only if there is a basis in fact for doing so.

For a public servant to challenge the election on a baseless allegation of fraud is irresponsible for two reasons. First, it damages society’s belief in the most important of our institutions, the right of the citizens to select the people who will pass and execute the laws that govern the nation.

Second, by alleging fraud, the president is accusing citizens of criminal acts without any due process at all. A person with the senator’s background should find that reprehensible. Not only does he not, but he also encourages and perpetuates it.

Is there a factual basis for the charges of fraud then? Clearly no. The claims of fraud have come from the president, a man who has conclusively demonstrated he is one of the greatest liars in history. His claims that the election was rigged have not been supported by any evidence.

Public servants constantly receive allegations of wrongdoing from all sorts of people. Some of these people are delusional, some are motivated by revenge, some are seeking some sort of leverage. The responsible public servant determines if the claims are at all factual and refuses to countenance them if they are not. It is irresponsible not to.

Sen. Lee is not in the responsible category.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Assistant U.S. Attorney Stewart Walz is retiring after 41 years of service in the federal government. Most of his career was spent prosecuting white-collar crime. Salt Lake City, Tuesday Feb. 27, 2018.

Stewart Walz, Sandy, retired in 2018 after 41 years in federal service.