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domingo, marzo 16, 2008

Was Spitzer Like Siegelman The Target Of A Political Prosecution?

Don Siegelman, a former, Democratic governor of Alabama and a good guy, was railroaded to a federal prison where he's now serving a 7-year sentence, in a case that has Karl Rove's fingerprints all over it. The case is a travesty and proof positive not only that there are political prisoners in the US but that Siegelman is one of them.

Yesterday, I wrote a diary about this disgraceful travesty because I wanted to keep the story alive. I don't want us to forget that this conviction is an example of why there was a US Attorney scandal and why investigation of that scandal must continue.

The best sources of information on Siegelman, if you're not yet familiar with this mockery of justice, is OPOL's Friday diary on the case, a diary with lots of video and background, and Siegelman's web site.

What's any of this got to do with Eliot Spitzer, who has been forced to resign as Governor of New York because of his hiring prostitutes? Plenty.

In an video interview with 60 Minutes about Don Siegelman's case, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, a republican, one of 52 other former state attorney general's decrying Siegelman's conviction, explained that in Siegelman's case the travesty began when at the behest of Karl Rove and others law enforcement officials began to investigate Siegelman for entirely political reasons. They were not investigating a crime that had occurred; they were instead investigating a person, their political adversary.

At the start of the investigation of Siegelman, there was no reason whatsoever to believe that any crime had been committed. Quite to the contrary, from its inception the investigation was a political prosecution by appointed officials (the US Attorneys, the FBI, DoJ employees) to damage or remove an elected official, in effect, to nullify an election. This meant, in the simplest terms, committing large amounts of resources to their quarry until, presto chango!, something that could be turned into at the least a scandal or at best, an indictment mysteriously arose. You'll recall Judge Sol Wachtler's truism that a prosecutor could convince a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

The dangers of having unelected officials remove elected ones should be obvious.

Now, what about Eliot Spitzer? You'll recall Troopergate, the enormous dustup between Spitzer and Senate Republican Leader Joseph Bruno arising from Spitzer's causing a state police investigation of Bruno for alleged use of state aircraft for personal reasons. That was just last summer and fall. In this kind of political lucha libre, there is always tit for tat.

Notice the similarities between the Siegelman and Spitzer cases. Scott Horton writes in TNR:
The story emerging around the fall of Eliot Spitzer suggests that the case did not start with the report of a crime. Rather it started with a decision to look into Spitzer and his financial dealings. snip

Specifically, the official narrative suggests that a Long Island bank noticed an odd pattern of payments made by Spitzer between different accounts. The payments were not enormous sums... snip
The Los Angeles Times reports that Spitzer asked that his name be taken off the money wires, which reportedly aroused suspicion. The bank submitted a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) to the IRS. The payments which totaled up to $80,000, looked suspicious, we are told, and were examined on the basis that they might be an effort to money-launder bribes. This was reported to the IRS in Hauppauge, Long Island, which in turn involved the Public Integrity Section in the Department of Justice.

The Public Integrity Section sought an obtained approval to continue the investigation from the US Attorney General. The Section, which is highly politicized, prosecutes 5.6 democrats for every republican. Of course, approval to investigate further was granted.

According to Horton:
Considering that the official account shows this was a "routine" examination of bank records, the level of resources allocated to it, including investigators and prosecutors, was lavish. This again suggests a political prosecution. Political direction is rarely overt. It usually takes the form of generous allocation of resources for political targets, and constriction of resources for persons who are politically protected. Clearly, moving the case against Spitzer had become a priority.

Two more questions should be asked about the prosecution. The first is whether a selective attitude is taken in prosecution--that is, whether the Justice Department is treating Spitzer in a manner consistent with other (notably Republican) figures caught in a similarly compromised position. The second is how the matter was broken to the press.

On each of these points, the information now available raises unsettling issues about the conduct of the Justice Department. One close parallel involving a prostitution investigation is the case of the "D.C. Madam." In that case, federal prosecutors have proceeded against the prostitution ring and have shown little interest in the customer list, which is said to include a former high-ranking Bush Administration official (Randall Tobias, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development) and a U.S. Senator (David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana). The prosecutors' conduct in the "D.C. Madam" case has been remarkably deferential to the public figures involved. That case cannot be squared with the investigation into Governor Spitzer--it points to a double standard.

Politically abusive prosecutions are almost always marked by media-friendly prosecutors. The essence of political prosecution is less to bag the political prey than to make partisan propaganda by marking the target as "corrupt." And the accounts published in The New York Times, ABC News, and other media outlets reveal investigators and prosecutors eager to get the details out and on to the public record. (On Friday, a Times reporter received a tip that "Client 9" was "a New York official.") Indeed, there is an extremely revealing penchant for salacious detail in the complaint--insinuations about the sexual proclivities of "Client 9," for instance. This may have been included gratuitously to humiliate Spitzer and destroy any prospects for his future political career. If there is a legitimate prosecutorial purpose served, I can't fathom it.

Horton concludes that it's too early to decide with certainty whether the investigation of Spitzer was a political one. That may be so, but I don't believe it. The stench emanating from Siegelman's conviction and from the investigation of Spitzer is the same.

Is there going to be in inquiry into the investigation of Spitzer? One can only hope so.

It is vitally important to the preservation of our democracy that political uses of law enforcement, like the one in Siegelmans' case, like the one in Spitzer's case, be controlled. If they are not, elected officials will constantly risk subversion by appointed officials of the opposing party.

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