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The Assault on Public Integrity Continues

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One of the more suspicious chapters in the U.S. attorneys scandal relates to the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, Debra Yang. She was engaged in a probe into corruption allegations surrounding Congressman Jerry Lewis of Redlands, California. There is evidence to suggest that Karl Rove and Harriet Miers decided that Yang’s examination of corruption allegations surrounding Lewis were uncomfortable, and that they wanted her out, presumably to protect Lewis.

For her part, Yang denies any connection between her departure and that of other U.S. Attorneys. But it is interesting that she left to work with Theodore Olson, once President Bush’s solicitor general, for a seven-figure paycheck as a partner at the Los Angeles powerhouse law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. And that Jerry Lewis had hired high-priced counsel defending Yang’s probe–namely Ted Olson at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Yang was replaced by Thomas P. O’Brian, a successor far more congenial to the White House. O’Brian quickly decided that the probe into Representative Lewis wasn’t really very important. In fact he seems to have done just about everything within his power to shut it down. As the Los Angeles Daily Journal reported back in September, the new U.S. attorney decided to terminate the 25-year veteran prosecutor who was heading up the examination into Lewis. As the San Bernardino County Sun asked, was this just another of those amazing coincidences that kept getting in the way of the investigation of Lewis, or was a pattern of politically driven maneuvers to block the investigation not now evident? The Sun adopted the latter view, as has just about every person who has independently examined the curious conduct of the Los Angeles U.S. attorney’s office.

That was September, and in the interim we learn that, just as forecast, the air has been drained from the tires of the Lewis probe. Yet another blow came this week. The Recorder, a Southern California legal periodical, discloses that the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles has decided to shut down his public integrity section.

Paul Kiel, writing at Talking Points Memo, interviews a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles:

The fact of an investigation into the earmark process [i.e. the Duke Cunningham scandal and by extension the investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA)],” really had a huge impact in opening up debate of how that process has been corrupted by money. That doesn’t happen if you’re not looking at it every day.

“My concern is the message that it sends,” the lawyer continued. “The existence of the section, the fact that talented, smart, aggressive prosecutors are looking at cases, sends a message to public officials that they need to be careful.” Now another message has been sent.

Indeed, that message compares prominently with the recent highly played sting action involving Eliot Spitzer. That was run by the public integrity unit in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office. The whole matter opened and was developed in a matter of weeks and involved an immense deployment of resources, all with the strong approbation of Washington.

How do we reconcile the attitude taken in Manhattan with the one in the nation’s second largest metropolis, Los Angeles? You just have to look at the party affiliation of the targets, and all questions are answered. This is the Bush Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, after all.

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