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DOJ’s Magnolia Caper


As my friend John Barrett reminds me, on this day in 1940, Robert H. Jackson, perhaps the nation’s greatest attorney general, gave one of his most important speeches. Jackson had only recently come to the helm at Justice; he had served as Solicitor General previously, and the demonstration of his skills as an advocate of exceptional eloquence and erudition had led President Roosevelt to make the logical choice and promote him. Jackson picked an important theme for a major address directed to a gathering of career prosecutors: he called his speech “the federal prosecutor.” This speech assembles the values that a prosecutor is expected to reflect, and it targets the most serious scourge that can infect the administration of justice–the misdirection of prosecutions for political purposes. “There can also be no doubt that to be closely identified with the intrigue, the money raising, and the machinery of a particular party or faction may present a prosecuting officer with embarrassing alignments and associations,” Jackson stated.

The anniversary of the delivery of this important speech provides a good opportunity to examine once more just how thoroughly the Bush Justice Department disrespects the indispensable guidance it offers – even as Attorney General Mukasey and Deputy Attorney General Filip quote it. Raw Story’s Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane offer us just that. They reexamine today the politically motivated prosecutions of Oliver Diaz and Paul Minor in Mississippi. I previously discussed the Diaz and Minor prosecutions here, here and here.

The most new ground developed in the piece relates to the curious role played by U.S. Attorney Dunnica Ott Lampton. Lampton’s name appeared on the initial “hit list” of U.S. attorneys set to be cashiered by Karl Rove and Harriet Miers in March 2005. But Lampton survived. What intervened? Among other things, the Diaz and Minor prosecutions. I have often thought that a comparison of the initial list of 26 with the final list of terminated U.S. attorneys will yield up some interesting facts. The question that list suggests is fairly simple: what, exactly, did a U.S. attorney have to do to survive, once he or she was scheduled to be jettisoned? Both the case of Lampton and that of Milwaukee’s Steven Biskupic suggest an answer: bring a politically motivated prosecution, timed to run alongside an election cycle, all for the greater glory of the Republican Party in its local election exploits.


Lampton is disclosed to have extensive conflicts of interest which should have precluded his involvement in the case under existing Justice Department ethics guidelines.

At the time when Lampton began investigating Paul Minor, his own interests were directly under threat. Minor had successfully sued several companies associated with Lampton’s family members and contributors to his unsuccessful bid for a Congressional seat. In 2002, Minor was in the midst of a major plaintiffs’ case against a company called Magnolia Trucking, a subsidiary of Ergon Inc., a private firm owned by the Lampton family. Members of the Lampton family with ties to Ergon include Leslie B. Lampton, Director and CEO; Bill Lampton, the President of the Asphalt Division; and Lee Lampton, Director of Operations.

FEC documents for 2000 show that Ergon employees collectively donated $10,300 to Lampton’s congressional campaign. Lampton family members donated $5,250. Ergon Inc. also has a relationship with the Barbour family. Following Haley Barbour’s election as governor of Mississippi, his nephews, Austin and Henry Barbour, became lobbyists with Capitol Resources, LLC, a firm whose clients included Ergon. Lampton also received donations in 2000 from two of the major tobacco companies involved in the 1998 settlement, Lorillard and Brown & Williams. Haley Barbour, who was then Lorillard’s lobbyist, donated to Lampton as well.

On a recent visit to Mississippi, I also probed into the Lampton-Ergon connections after learning of the Lampton family connections and the fact that Minor had won a significant judgment against the company. The Raw Story piece now suggests to me that I dropped this inquiry too early, because the campaign financing ties establish a ready connection. The Raw Story team has been taking a “follow the money” approach, and they offer a schematic which parallels the Siegelman prosecution in Alabama with the Minor/Diaz prosecutions in Mississippi. The cases reflect a similar unfolding of G.O.P. electoral plans, Abramoff-Scanlon-based electoral finance (supporting Riley in Alabama, and Barbour and G.O.P.-backed judicial candidates in Mississippi), and the deployment of U.S. attorneys to eliminate political adversaries through specious prosecutions.

What we see in the Mississippi prosecutions is the very model of a prosecution conceived and implemented for partisan political purposes. It demonstrates everything that Robert Jackson warned us against.

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