Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Partisan Prosecution

I suppose there are a few people out there who think that the only thing wrong with this story is that DOJ officials have done a horrible job of explaining exactly why they fired people for no good reason. Of course, that's ludicrous, and Kevin Drum offers us evidence as to why. The problem has never been simply that the White House has sought to purge U.S. Attorneys who were doing their jobs a little too well by indicting Republican officials, but that those firings were done also as a warning to other attorneys who were not spending enough time and effort going after local Democratic officials. Here's an example of the enthusiasm the White House was probably looking for (Kevin's post is worth quoting in full):
Consider a case with the following facts:
The state of Wisconsin is evaluating bids for travel agencies. Under the scoring system used by the evaluation committee, the two top candidates are Adelman and Omega. Adelman scores 1026.6 and Omega scores 1027.3 out of 1200. That's a difference of .06%. However, Adelman is an in-state company, and one member of the committee, a civil servant named Georgia Thompson, says something along the lines of "our bosses won't like it if we choose Omega." Since Adelman is in-state, and also the low bidder, and the scores were essentially tied, why not choose Adelman?
That's it. That's all that happened. Now, suppose you're the U.S. Attorney for Wisconsin and someone brings this case to your attention. What would you do?
1. Sigh, say you'll look into it, and then get back to your real work.

2. Assign someone to investigate. They report back that Thompson gained nothing from this, so whatever else it may be, it's not a violation of federal law. Return to your real work.

3.Think to yourself, "Hmmm. Governor Jim Doyle is a Democrat, and he's up for reelection. If we could manufacture a case making it look like Thompson was trying to pay off one of Doyle's campaign contributors, that would be pretty sweet." Then assign a prosecutor to the case and take it to trial.
Not only did Steven Biskupic take this absurdly insubstantial case to trial and win a conviction of Thompson for violating federal law, he even persuaded the Republican judge in the case to toss Thompson in jail immediately instead of letting her remain free pending appeal. This is very unusual. (Do you think Scooter Libby will be hauled off to prison immediately after his sentencing?)

But then another unusual thing happened. A few days ago an appellate court heard the case and was plainly appalled that Thompson had apparently been railroaded by evidence that it called "beyond thin." The court unanimously overturned Thompson's conviction within minutes of hearing oral arguments and set her free. This only happens if the court is convinced not merely that the government is unlikely to win the appeal, but that the government literally had no case to begin with.

So why was this case ever brought in the first place? Do you have to ask?
Now, if you happen to be on the right side of the aisle, you might be able to get away with arguing that a President ought to be able to fire anybody who works for him as he sees fit when he sees fit. Fair enough. But I dare anyone to argue that railroading officials-who after all are presumed innocent despite the fact that they may be Democratic or Republican-to the extent that an appellate court releases them minutes after hearing oral arguments, is the worst kind of abuse of the law. It's a subversion the law and prosecution of the innocent for the sake of partisan political advantage, and it's an offense to decency and to democracy. For his loyal service, Biskupic should see the inside of a jail cell for himself. At worst, he'll probably end up facing some harsh questions before Congress. My only hope is that if he's stupid enough to carry out this prosecution in the first place, he might be stupid enough to try to lie in front of Congress as well.

UPDATE: Speaking of Congress:
The House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales today seeking hundreds of pages of new or uncensored records related to the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year, officials said.

It is the first subpoena to be served on the Bush administration in connection with the dismissals and escalates the confrontation between Democrats and the Bush administration, which has resisted demands for more documents and for public testimony from White House aides about the dismissals.

"We have been patient in allowing the department to work through its concerns regarding the sensitive nature of some of these materials," Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the judiciary panel's chairman, wrote Gonzales in a letter that accompanied the subpoena. "Unfortunately, the department has not indicated any meaningful willingness to find a way to meet our legitimate needs."

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