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The Art of Political Prosecution


Today the editors of the nation’s leading newspaper look at the evidence, and dare to state the completely obvious:

One part of the Justice Department mess that requires more scrutiny is the growing evidence that the department may have singled out people for criminal prosecution to help Republicans win elections. The House Judiciary Committee has begun investigating several cases that raise serious questions. The panel should determine what role politics played in all of them.

Putting political opponents in jail is the sort of thing that happens in third-world dictatorships. In the United States, prosecutions are supposed to be scrupulously nonpartisan. This principle appears to have broken down in Alberto Gonzales’s Justice Department — where lawyers were improperly hired for nonpolitical jobs based on party membership, and United States attorneys were apparently fired for political reasons.

Individual Democrats may be paying a personal price. Don Siegelman, a former Alabama governor, was the state’s most prominent Democrat and had a decent chance of retaking the governorship from the Republican incumbent. He was aggressively prosecuted by both the Birmingham and Montgomery United States attorney’s offices. Birmingham prosecutors dropped their case after a judge harshly questioned it. When the Montgomery office prosecuted, a jury acquitted Mr. Siegelman of 25 counts, but convicted him of 7, which appear to be disturbingly weak.

The prosecution may have been a political hit. A Republican lawyer, Dana Jill Simpson, has said in a sworn statement that she heard Bill Canary, a Republican operative and a Karl Rove protégé, say that his “girls” — his wife, the United States attorney in Montgomery, and Alice Martin, the United States attorney in Birmingham — would “take care” of Mr. Siegelman. Mr. Canary also said, according to Ms. Simpson, that Mr. Rove was involved.

The Siegelman prosecution is at present the most obvious example of politically-motivated and -driven prosecution. The defense offered up by the Justice Department borders on hysterical absurdity. There are grounds for all Americans to be concerned, not just the people of Alabama. The political synchronization of the Justice Department is a step towards the creation of a tyrannical state. There were and continue to be persons of integrity in the Justice Department—James Comey strikes me as one, for instance—but they have been consistently circumvented and cuckolded by the political connivers who run the department, of which Fredo is the prime example.

Today, former Governor Don Siegelman is a political prisoner. It’s as simple as that. And the fact that he continues to sit in prison, even today as the true account of what was done begins to unfold, is evidence of how our institutions have been severely weakened by the Rovian onslaught. His case will continue on appeal as if it were an ordinary criminal case. But it is not one, and treating it as such is insulting.

There is another very worrisome fact. Siegelman is just one case. It’s looking increasingly obvious that there have been dozens of such corrupt prosecutions, and that a careful review needs to be made of the prosecutorial decision process in political cases. These cases need to be weeded out, and those who prostituted the Justice Department to political schemes need to be punished.

As the New York Times notes, the Bush Administration continues to engage in blatant acts of obstruction and delay to block Congress’s probe of the Siegelman case. This behavior should be observed carefully, for it provides more powerful evidence of the crime which has been committed through this prosecution. In the face of the forces of repression which masquerade as law enforcement, our resolve must be firm. Nothing is more important than justice. We must be unrelenting in our pursuit of it. And we must learn to hate those who abuse and undermine it, and doubly so when they cloak their misdeeds in the name of our institutions. We must have the courage to speak the truth and expose pitiful lies for what they are.

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