Sunday, July 01, 2007

Hiring and firing U.S. attorneys is not illegal... unless it is part of a common plan to pursue malicious prosecution

What is the U.S. Attorneys scandal all about? It is often discussed in terms of a few U.S. attorneys having been fired and a few new ones having been hired, according to political allegiances. Sounds upsetting, but tell us again how that conflicts with the President's prerogative to control the executive branch as he sees fit?

More and more evidence keeps coming out, though, as to what was behind the partisan-motivated hirings and firings: a common plan, orchestrated from the Department of Justice and the White House, to pursue malicious prosecution of Democrats, and to push fraudulent voting restrictions designed to disenfranchise Democratic voters, ironically in the name of cracking down on voter fraud.

We learned that Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic brought charges of corruption against the office of Democratic Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle, throwing one of his career civil servants in jail, before the appeals court found the case so baseless that it took the astonishing step of ordering her released immediately after oral argument.

Then we learned that the Democratic former governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman, who was recently sentenced to over seven years in prison on charges of corruption, was apparently the target of malicious prosecution organized by Karl Rove, according to evidence that includes a sworn affidavit from a Republican lawyer (hooray for the highly endangered conscious of a conservative!). This is just beginning to get notice, including by the editorial board of the New York Times. The U.S. Attorney brought more than 100 charges against Siegelman before most were dismissed, and had asked for a sentence of 30 years in prison and a $25 million fine. Compare this with Republican former Alabama governor Guy Hunt, who was prosecuted for a similar crime: the prosecutors sought probation (and he was later pardoned).

Now, the McClatchy newspapers - rapidly establishing themselves as America's new "newspaper of record" - have a terrific piece on the story behind the firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, due in part to his unwillingness to bow to pressure to prosecute cases of voter fraud where he found the evidence to be without merit. And, lo and behold, the point man for pressuring Iglesias, Patrick Rogers, was heavily involved with the nationwide campaign to pass restrictive voting requirements, a campaign celebrated by Karl Rove last year at a conference of the Republican National Lawyers Association.

The scary part? Patrick Rogers is now a candidate to replace Iglesias.

Bonus scary part: one of Patrick Rogers's colleagues at his pro-disenfranchisment group, Cameron Quinn, was appointed last year as the voting counsel at the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

David Iglesias happens to have been one of the experts on the subject of voting fraud, and was convinced the evidence did not support any prosecutions for voter fraud, despite Rogers's repeated promptings.

Rogers's group was also responsible for trumpeting allegations that ACORN was engaging in voter fraud in Missouri prior to the 2006 election, in its drive to register poor and minority voters, based on a few workers whom ACORN had already fired - and those allegations were followed up by indictments brought only a week before the election, a blatant violation of the DOJ's policies, by Bradley Schlozman, the interim U.S. Attorney appointed by Alberto Gonzales. This is the same Schlozman who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not believe this prosecution could have any possible effect on the election.

So, we have:
1. A Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney in Wisconsin pursued what has been effectively identified by the appeals court as a meritless prosecution, against the Democratic governor of Wisconsin, during a close election;
2. A Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney in Alabama pursued a prosecution against a popular Democratic former governor of Alabama that included over 100 charges that were dismissed by three different judges, and that included sentencing recommendations grossly disproportionate to the alleged crime; the U.S. Attorney also is married to a senior campaign official of the Republican governor who defeated said Democratic former governor, based on a controversial recount; a Republican lawyer signed a sworn affidavit that the prosecution was apparently arranged ahead of time with Karl Rove;
3. A Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney in Missouri opened a voter fraud prosecution against Democratic-leaning campaign workers, a week before a close election; and
4. A U.S. Attorney in New Mexico was fired apparently in part for not bringing meritless prosecutions of voter fraud, and the lawyer who repeatedly prompted him to pursue such prosecutions is being considered as his replacement;
5. Carole Lam, the U.S. Attorney in San Diego, was fired after prosecuting GOP Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham and was preparing to follow that up with prosecutions of his co-conspirators among the Bush administration; etc.

Here is what Congress, the media, and any remaining honest prosecutors need to ask:

Were Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzales, and other officials in Washington organized in a common plan to install U.S. Attorneys who would avoid prosecuting Republicans and who would bring trumped-up, politically timed, or meritless prosecutions against Democrats?

If so, the President's authority to direct the executive branch is irrelevant; anyone involved in such a common plan to break the law would be guilty of a felony.

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