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I get a chuckle reading in what passes for newspapers down in Alabama that the “flap” over the conviction of former Governor Don Siegelman is all just so much protesting from “Democrats.” However, the facts are different. No political party in America has a monopoly on corruption, but when one political party gets its hands on too much of the machinery of government, and is free to act unchecked, the tendency towards corruption builds. Indeed, it becomes irresistible. It was recognition of this fact that forms the true genius of the system that the American Framers created – by carefully balancing the powers of government between three different branches, and then between a central federal government and the states, they intended to limit the power that any one faction could ever wield. And back in the days when conservatives really were conservatives, they appreciated the beauty of this system and its promise of a less intrusive government and thus more liberty. Now, of course, the world is turned upside down.
America is awakening to a realization that the power of criminal justice administration vested in the federal government has been corrupted to its very core. This does not mean that every prosecution brought is false. But it does mean that the priorities applied to selecting cases are politically perverted to fit a partisan agenda. Cases of murder, rape, assault and torture are not brought even though they have been fully investigated and prosecution is recommended by the investigators – because some folks at Main Justice and in the Eastern District of Virginia believe it would be embarrassing to the Bush Administration to bring these cases. (But I am getting ahead of myself. You’ll hear much more about that in September). And they’re probably right. These cases will be prosecuted. And when they are, it will embarrass some powerful figures in the Bush Administration.
Similarly, resources could not be found to pursue the murder of a brilliant young assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle because main Justice learned he was opposed to gun control, and he was murdered using a fire arm. There you have it: the young life of a dedicated career prosecutor, marked-down drastically because he is suspected of infidelity to the administration’s pandering to the gun lobby. This is justice? In the meantime tens of millions are diverted to prosecute a comedian in court proceedings in Pittsburgh because he is famous for making jokes about marijuana and runs a company that sells bongs. Prosecutions are pursued because they are believed to correspond to the “hot buttons” of the Religious Right. Prosecutions are pursued because they play into the Administration’s efforts to engage in fearmongering supporting the “war on terror.” This entire process is not justice. It is the perversion of justice.
But it is still possible to say that these choice are within the range of some sort of policy choice. An attorney general could reasonably decide that assistant U.S. attorneys are expendable, and that his top priority is the eradication of bongs. It seems strange to me, but I’ll accept that an attorney general has some discretion to do strange things.
Then we come to the fact that under Ashcroft and Gonzales and their curiously partisan Public Integrity Unit, the Justice Department has brought seven prosecutions of Democrats for every one Republican. Is that because Democrats are just more corrupt? Certainly not. Indeed, then we look at the cases and see what’s going on. It’s rampant political perversion of the criminal justice machinery for partisan political purposes. And the principal voice who’s made this clear in the last three months belongs to Ronald Reagan’s lawyer, Bruce Fein. Yes, he’s a Republican. He’s not pleased with what his fellow Republicans at DOJ are doing. In fact, he’s mortified.
Now in the case of Don Siegelman, we should focus on another thing: the whistle was blown on this farce of a prosecution by a dedicated Republican named Dana Jill Simpson. The people who brought the case to me and gave me the initial leads I used in it were also zealous Alabama Republicans. (One told me, “I can’t abide Don Siegelman. But to see our courts abused in this way makes me sick. They’ve taken Alabama and turned it into a banana republic. This isn’t what I want for my family and children.”) And even today, in the report by the Los Angeles Times on the Siegelman sentencing, in which one of the six attorneys general who has asked for an investigation of the Siegelman prosecution speaks on the record. And yes, he is a Republican.
“Congressional committees ought to investigate what in the world went on in this case,” said Grant Woods, a Republican former attorney general of Arizona. Woods, who still tries high-profile cases as a special prosecutor, has reviewed the charges against Siegelman as a former colleague and friend.
“From start to finish, this case has been riddled with irregularities. It does not pass the smell test,” Woods said.
There is a swelling demand in this country to end the partisan games that Bush introduced into the machinery of justice, and which will forever be associated with the name of Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove. It’s not just Democrats who are making these demands. Do we want to see a shift of power to Hillary Clinton on January 20, 2009, only to see her pursue exactly the same sort of partisan games? I think not. Republicans want justice, too. And indeed, smart Republicans, like the ones who have stepped forward to put an end to the farce of a prosecution down in Alabama, recognize that their party has the most to lose from these antics going forward, and the most to gain from quickly putting the brakes on. They have shown that country comes before party, and in that they’re a model for us all.
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Notes on South Africa’s failed revolution
“I will never know what goes on in your mind, or what that shield of a smile behind which we try to advance should tell us.”