No Comment — September 2, 2007, 12:16 pm

Another Political Prosecution in Michigan?

No sooner had Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation, than the Department of Justice unsealed an indictment going after a high-profile attorney linked to the presidential campaign of John Edwards with a rare charge. It attacks a practice of reimbursing employees for contributions they made to the Edwards campaign.

The Detroit Free Press reports:

The Justice Department on Friday unsealed an indictment charging Fieger and his law partner, Vernon Johnson, with illegally reimbursing their employees and others for about $127,000 in political contributions to the 2004 presidential campaign of John Edwards. Fieger also is charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and causing false statements.

Gonzales has been under fire for months for his handling of a variety of issues, including the dismissal of eight U.S. Attorneys.

Fieger plans a news conference at his office Tuesday morning. Famed defense lawyers Alan Dershowitz and Gerry Spence are scheduled to discuss the timing of the indictment and Gonzales’s resignation, according to a statement from Fieger’s office.

Fieger has filed a motion seeking dismissal of the indictment as a “political and vindictive prosecution.” The Justice Department responds: “ridiculous, ludicrous, absurd.”

Time was when such charges leveled at the Justice Department would not withstand the light of day. Times have changed. Today almost no one in the legal community questions the fact that the Gonzales Justice Department has been engaged in selective, politically vindictive prosecutions. The only disagreements now are over which cases safely fit into that category.

The evidence for the broader conclusion is overwhelming. Seven Democrats for every Republican. Close coordination with local Republican party officials. Playing the prosecutions to the press. Timing them, like this one, to overlap with critical elections.

No where is it more obvious than in the prosecution of Governor Siegelman in Alabama, which Fieger cites and details in his brief. (Read the Fieger brief here. In an alarming move, the judge ordered the brief stricken because it was printed in the wrong font, so thanks to the Free Press for publishing it.) No doubt Fieger will put it to good use in making his case—if the court allows it.

The epicenter of the corrupt practices has been the very Public Integrity Section which once was a model of ethical conduct and high standards, and today has fallen under the control of political buccaneers. Moreover, recent studies of politically motivated prosecutions have expressed particular worries about the conduct of U.S. Attorneys in Michigan, one of whom figures in the current scandal. In the Eastern District of Michigan, where this case has been brought, 21 Democratic public officials have been charged or linked to corruption inquiries, including the governor, the mayor of Detroit, and several local officials. The way in which these cases were brought and pursued left little doubt as to an intention to achieve political points for the G.O.P. There also appears to be a suspiciously close connection between many of these prosecutions and the political efforts of the Republican Party in Michigan, as the New York Times noted in a story by Eric Lipton published on May 1, 2007. The case against a former Detroit prosecutor, Carl J. Marlinga, handled by the same office as the Fieger case, is now viewed very widely by scholars studying the matter as a clear-cut case of vindictive, politically directed prosecution. So this seems to fit an established modus operandi of corruptly motivated prosecution.

Moreover, the selection of Fieger is particularly suspect. Mr. Fieger supported the campaign of John McCain against President Bush in the Republican primary in Michigan in 2000. The day after the primary, Bush went ballistic in an ad hominem attack against Fieger, attacking him four times in a speech delivered at Lawrence Technological University. The political animus surrounding the targeting of Fieger simply could not be clearer. Neither could the involvement of Alberto Gonzales and other politicos in the Bush Administration in the decision to pursue the matter. It was launched by a raid on the office of a law firm which resulted from the personal order of Gonzales.

This case is still at an early stage. It may be that the prosecutors have a solid case against Fieger. But it is almost certainly the case that Fieger has been picked out for prosecution and resources have been aggressively pumped his way because he is a political enemy of the Bush Administration. Are we, once more, witnessing the Justice Department being wielded as an extended arm of the Republican Party? That may in the end prove an unjust concern, but it is most certainly not “ridiculous, ludicrous and absurd.” It seems a no-brainer at this point that if you are playing fast and loose with campaign finance, the question will be dealt with as a routine administrative matter if you’re loyal to the Bush Administration, and will face the full prosecutorial fury of the Justice Department if you’re deemed a “political enemy.”

That’s not the way our democracy is supposed to work.

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