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Polk Award Recognizes Exposure of U.S. Attorneys Scandal

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The George Polk awards remember a great CBS correspondent who died covering the Greek Civil War. They are, alongside the Pulitzer Prize, a recognition for the profession’s high achievers. Today Talking Points Memo, the team web effort led by Joshua Micah Marshall, has received a Polk Award for its coverage of the U.S. Attorneys Scandal. The award is well warranted, and TPM’s work on this front has been invaluable.

Of course, the Mukasey Justice Department recognized TPM in a different way. It declared the internet publisher persona non grata. That may be an equally significant badge of honor.

For most of the nation’s broadcast and print media, the announcements of a stream of resignations by U.S. attorneys across the country were not significant news. They were seen as routine personnel transitions. Marshall and his group are among the handful of people who quickly detected a pattern in the news and worked hard to bring the facts to the forefront. Notwithstanding a torrent of misleading statements gushing from the Justice Department and the White House, they succeeded in laying bare a plan involving Attorney General Gonzales, White House Counsel Harriet Miers, and the President’s key political advisor, Karl Rove. Not coincidentally, all three have since left the Bush Administration. But the White House and Justice Department’s stonewalling continues. Indeed, it seems to get more melodramatic every week, as last week’s contretemps in the House showed.

The story of the eight or nine (or perhaps even a dozen) U.S. Attorneys cashiered by Alberto Gonzales at the end of 2006 hasn’t yet run its full course. Gonzales’s lies about what he did, and the deceptions and misstatements of four other senior Justice Department officials, led to a clean-sweep of the upper reaches of the Justice Department and to an internal probe. Official Washington is still awaiting the results of the Justice Department’s internal investigation of the scandal. While a whitewashing can’t be ruled out, it now seems much more likely that a report will emerge documenting that unlawful, and probably criminal, purposes figured in this scheme.

Applying a “but-for” test of causation is always a bit tricky, but I think that this vital chapter in the politicization of the Justice Department might have been swept under the carpet as a “mere personnel dispute” without Marshall’s tenacious treatment of the issues. So from all who care about justice in America, and for all who long for restoration of the integrity and quality which once were the hallmarks of the Justice Department, heartfelt words of congratulation to Marshall and his crew are in order. I note this falls just after Josh’s birthday, so he’s got plenty to celebrate.

In the meantime, many of you will have gotten the current Harper’s in your mailbox and with it my article, “Vote Machine.” It’s my attempt to survey the horizon of political manipulation at Justice, and my surmises about whether and how this can be set straight by the next president. Readers of this column will find it a worthwhile excursion.

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