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Former AG Thornburgh Says Prosecution Was Political

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On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee will be holding hearings on politics and the Bush Justice Department. The focus will be on a series of cases in which it is alleged that the Justice Department brought charges to advance the political agenda of the Republican Party, and not for proper law enforcement purposes. The case surrounding Alabama Governor Don Siegelman is the centerpiece, and is still reckoned by most observers as the most overpowering case for prosecutorial abuse so far. On Tuesday, more evidence linking Karl Rove to the Siegelman prosecution will be put forward.

And now it appears that a Bush Attorney General will testify that he has examined one of the cases and concludes that it was in fact motivated and driven by improper political factors. The charges will be leveled by Dick Thornburgh, the Attorney General of President George H.W. Bush, and they will focus on the Pittsburgh U.S. Attorney’s prosecution of a coroner. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has just reported:

Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh will testify before a subcomittee of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday about why he feels the prosecution of former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht is politically motivated. Mr. Thornburgh will be given an allotment of time to make a statement, and then it is likely the subcommittee, which is investigating the firings of nine U.S. attorneys across the country last year, will ask questions. Dr. Wecht is charged with 84 federal counts, including mail and wire fraud, that allege he misused his county office for personal gain. He is scheduled to go to trial in January.

All along, Dr. Wecht’s defense attorneys have claimed that the prosecution against him was politically motivated. There have been allegations that U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan — a staunch Republican appointed by the Bush administration — filed the case against him to earn political points. Ms. Buchanan has continually denied those charges. Defense attorney Jerry McDevitt called Mr. Thornburgh’s testimony “highly unusual,” especially for a Republican and a former head of the Department of Justice.

The neutrality of the justice department is presumed, Mr. McDevitt said. For Mr. Thornburgh to speak out against that, he said, “speaks volumes.”

It should be noted that Buchanan played a mysterious and central role in the U.S. Attorneys scandal, evidently as a person who was well trusted by Karl Rove and his office. She placed one of her assistants as a U.S. Attorney in Alaska, and seems to have wielded influence in a number of other matters. She has brought a number of prosecutions which are under study now—they generally reflect a rightwing political agenda, with little concern for traditional law enforcement criteria.

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