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U.S. Attorneys Scandal–Milwaukee


At present the House Judiciary Committee has picked two cases for closer scrutiny. Both are cases in which the telltale signs of political manipulation can be found right on the surface. And, in an amazing comment on the state of justice in America today, both produced convictions of clearly innocent defendants. They are the corruption prosecutions of Georgia Thompson in Wisconsin and Don Siegelman in Alabama. So far, the Justice Department has complied to an extent with the Committee’s document production demands respecting the Thompson case, but is now one month and counting past due on Siegelman.

The exterior facts are these. We know that Steven Biskupic, the U.S. Attorney in Milwaukee, was initially put on a list of those to be fired by Karl Rove’s office. Then suddenly Mr. Biskupic got deeply engaged in a series of truly dubious cases, all of which had a distinctly Rovian political flavor. First, Biskupic became one of the nation’s most enthusiastic participants in the “voting fraud” fraud. He brought an array of insane cases, including one against a grandmother, which were detailed by The New York Times in an acid review of Biskupic’s mercenary political style. These cases generally involved voters who made honest mistakes about registration, but were prosecuted anyway (with many convicted). The targets were always Democrats who were from the major threat communities publicly identified by Rove—minority groups from the inner city. And the prosecutions were transparently pursued for purposes of voter suppression (i.e., an arguably criminal agenda). In the meantime, of course, Biskupic’s prosecutions of serious consumer fraud and similar matters fell, since great resources were diverted to do Rove’s partisan bidding. The Georgia Thompson conviction was overturned by an all-Republican panel of Seventh Circuit judges with stinging language, and Thompson was ordered freed immediately at the oral argument, with one judge saying the case which netted her conviction was “less than thin.” That case, of course, bore distinct parallels to the Siegelman case in Alabama. It appears to have been timed and pursued to help G.O.P. efforts in the state’s gubernatorial election.

Yesterday, Chairman Conyers released a handful of documents from his preliminary look into the Thompson case. These documents reflect exactly what has been suspected from the beginning: career prosecutors simply couldn’t understand why the prosecution was being pushed. “How in the heck did this case get brought?” asks one career prosecutor at main Justice in an email. That, indeed, is the exact question that the Judiciary Committee will be asking. But in fact the answer is completely apparent from the context of the case. Mr. Biskupic was very eager to save his job, and he knew he needed to do Karl Rove’s bidding to do so. That included bringing a prosecution of a state official, synchronized to match the election campaign, and hyped so as to furnish grist for the Republican party’s effort to retake the Madison statehouse.

In addition to the Thompson case, take a look at another prosecution brought in Wisconsin against a wounded vet, whose claims for benefits was turned into a criminal prosecution for wire fraud. As Wisconsin Public Radio reports, Keith Roberts, a Navy veteran got into the U.S. attorney’s crosshairs by filing a claim for benefits

related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnosed as occurring because he witnessed and tried to prevent his friend from being crushed to death by a C-54 airplane while stationed at a Naval air base in Naples, Italy 1969, and unrelated assault by the Navy Shore Patrol—granted and then denied, has not yet been decided by the CAVC.

But the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after being accused of fraud in 2003 by Roberts ignored the CAVC process and investigated and asked that Roberts be prosecuted for fraud by the US Attorney’s office.

The prosecution smacks of retaliation and a plan to suppress veterans claims—Roberts was prosecuted for tenaciously pursuing a claim for benefits, which VA resisted and which is still in the benefits review process. It may be that the veteran is making claims which shouldn’t be granted, but the decision to resist them by a criminal complaint is very heavy handed. What happens if the Veterans’ Appeals process rules for Roberts? As I read these papers, that seems possible. And if it happens, Biskupic will have egg on his face a second time.

In any event, the mystery in Milwaukee continues to be a simple one: how on earth does Biskupic continue to serve as a U.S. Attorney in light of his record of abuse of office for political purposes? The Thompson case indicates much worse than bad judgment. It needs to be the subject of a criminal probe, and a disciplinary inquiry by the Wisconsin bar.

A first step: Biskupic, Canary, and Martin, among the group of U.S. Attorneys who have sold their professional souls, should be put in a jail cell for thirty days to read Robert H. Jackson’s “The Federal Prosecutor.” It’s still the best statement of the ethical and professional responsibilities of a prosecutor that we have, and this crew make plain from their conduct that they haven’t an inkling of what their obligations to the country are. At this point I don’t know how many rotten eggs are out there, but one thing’s for certain: it’s not the dozen cashiered prosecutors we need to be worried about, but the more than eighty who were retained.

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