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Tracking Political Prosecutions

http://www.harpers.org/archive/2007/09/hbc-90001266

Scott Horton
September 22, 2007

In the last two weeks, two sources, one of them inside of the Justice Department, have told me that a scheme was hatched in the upper echelons of the Bush Administration shortly after it took office in 2001 or early in 2002. The project identified John Edwards and Hillary Clinton as likely Democratic challengers to President Bush, and identified prominent trial lawyers around the United States as the likely financial vehicle for Edward’s rise. It directed that their campaign finance records be fly-specked, and that offenses not be treated as administrative matters but rather as serious criminal offenses.

The scheme contemplated among other things that raids be staged on the law offices involved, and that the records seized not be limited to campaign finance—there was an acute interest in all politically oriented documents, in order to seize valuable intelligence on strategic planning from the enemy camp.

This all sounds rather fantastic—even more insidious than the enemies list days of the Nixon era. It is precisely the sort of crude harassment that a primitive dictatorship would use against its enemies—like Alexander Lukashenko in today’s Belarus, for instance. But as the descriptions were passed to me, I instantly recognized the pattern described recently in a case which has made the headlines in Michigan involving a prominent lawyer there, and a second case in Los Angeles. According to one source, the number of these cases is at least five and they are scattered about the country. One case, described to me in some detail, closely matches the pattern in Michigan and Los Angeles and occurred in the south on the Gulf of Mexico.

Why, I wondered, would the attorneys involved not scream bloody murder about this? Then it struck me. The threat of criminal investigation and prosecution is devastating to their law practices. Of course, they would keep it completely secret. And that silence has made the entire scheme possible. I am told that these cases involved the attorneys general personally—both John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales—that their go-ahead was needed to stage the raids. And that in each case, the greatest concern within the political pirates commanding the operation has been that the public would get wind of the bigger picture. It was essential to pull it off that each case be viewed as something standing all on its own, and that the fact that there was a politically motivated project be obscured.

The key factor here is that all the cases involve campaign finance violations which are of a rather mundane nature. And in each case the FEC violations have been hyped into something quite preposterous. The political angle, I am told, is simple: make trial attorney’s money radioactive. Dry up the source. Take out a key element of the Democrats’ campaign finance strategy.

This looks very suspiciously like a Rove strategy.

And this bring us back to the key unanswered questions about Rove’s involvement in the process of directing political prosecutions. His fingerprints are all over the prosecution of Governor Siegelman in Alabama, and further substantial evidence of that will shortly be public, linking him both to federal and state prosecutors and to the principal figures in the Alabama G.O.P. in connection with the scheme to “get Siegelman.” It strikes me as probable that the plot to take out the trial lawyers and to use the Justice Department as the vehicle was also hatched by Rove.

All of this helps explain why the documents that the Judiciary Committee is seeking are so vital to get to the bottom of the cloud now hanging over the Justice Department. It is essential to find out what conspiracies were involved driving prosecutions, to correct what was done, discipline those involved, and exonerate the victims. This in fact is the essence of what justice demands. For five years Washington has had a Department of Political Persecutions where the Department of Justice used to stand. That needs to be cleaned up.

A significant first step is coming in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recently passed bill requiring a tracking of contacts between the White House and the Justice Department. This was the fountain of abuse. Paul Kiel reports:

If Dick Cheney or his right-hand lawyer David Addington are talking to Justice Department officials about individual cases, Congress wants to know about it. What could be the second law change to emerge from the U.S. attorney firings scandal passed the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would require the White House and Justice Department to detail in reports to Congress twice a year which Department officials had spoken to which White House officials about cases.

During questioning of Alberto Gonzales this spring, Whitehouse revealed that the Bush White House had thrown the door open to literally hundreds of White House officials being able to confer with Department officials about cases. A memo signed by John Ashcroft had initially opened the door. But a May, 2006 memo by Gonzales had exacerbated the problem and seemed to take special care in ensuring access for Cheney’s staff. Gonzales, under questioning, was characteristically befuddled by the document that he’d signed: “I’d have to go back and look at this…. I must say I’m troubled by this.”

Alberto Gonzales of course fully understood what was happening and why, and fully approved of it. What disturbed him was the fact that all of this was becoming public.

If the scheme to get the Edwards trial lawyer supporters is as described to me, then it was a criminal conspiracy and those involved in it need to be tracked down, removed from office for their abuses, and punished.

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