No Comment — September 22, 2007, 8:12 am

Tracking Political Prosecutions

In the last two weeks, two sources, one of them inside of the Justice Department, have told me that a scheme was hatched in the upper echelons of the Bush Administration shortly after it took office in 2001 or early in 2002. The project identified John Edwards and Hillary Clinton as likely Democratic challengers to President Bush, and identified prominent trial lawyers around the United States as the likely financial vehicle for Edward’s rise. It directed that their campaign finance records be fly-specked, and that offenses not be treated as administrative matters but rather as serious criminal offenses.

The scheme contemplated among other things that raids be staged on the law offices involved, and that the records seized not be limited to campaign finance—there was an acute interest in all politically oriented documents, in order to seize valuable intelligence on strategic planning from the enemy camp.

This all sounds rather fantastic—even more insidious than the enemies list days of the Nixon era. It is precisely the sort of crude harassment that a primitive dictatorship would use against its enemies—like Alexander Lukashenko in today’s Belarus, for instance. But as the descriptions were passed to me, I instantly recognized the pattern described recently in a case which has made the headlines in Michigan involving a prominent lawyer there, and a second case in Los Angeles. According to one source, the number of these cases is at least five and they are scattered about the country. One case, described to me in some detail, closely matches the pattern in Michigan and Los Angeles and occurred in the south on the Gulf of Mexico.

Why, I wondered, would the attorneys involved not scream bloody murder about this? Then it struck me. The threat of criminal investigation and prosecution is devastating to their law practices. Of course, they would keep it completely secret. And that silence has made the entire scheme possible. I am told that these cases involved the attorneys general personally—both John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales—that their go-ahead was needed to stage the raids. And that in each case, the greatest concern within the political pirates commanding the operation has been that the public would get wind of the bigger picture. It was essential to pull it off that each case be viewed as something standing all on its own, and that the fact that there was a politically motivated project be obscured.

The key factor here is that all the cases involve campaign finance violations which are of a rather mundane nature. And in each case the FEC violations have been hyped into something quite preposterous. The political angle, I am told, is simple: make trial attorney’s money radioactive. Dry up the source. Take out a key element of the Democrats’ campaign finance strategy.

This looks very suspiciously like a Rove strategy.

And this bring us back to the key unanswered questions about Rove’s involvement in the process of directing political prosecutions. His fingerprints are all over the prosecution of Governor Siegelman in Alabama, and further substantial evidence of that will shortly be public, linking him both to federal and state prosecutors and to the principal figures in the Alabama G.O.P. in connection with the scheme to “get Siegelman.” It strikes me as probable that the plot to take out the trial lawyers and to use the Justice Department as the vehicle was also hatched by Rove.

All of this helps explain why the documents that the Judiciary Committee is seeking are so vital to get to the bottom of the cloud now hanging over the Justice Department. It is essential to find out what conspiracies were involved driving prosecutions, to correct what was done, discipline those involved, and exonerate the victims. This in fact is the essence of what justice demands. For five years Washington has had a Department of Political Persecutions where the Department of Justice used to stand. That needs to be cleaned up.

A significant first step is coming in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recently passed bill requiring a tracking of contacts between the White House and the Justice Department. This was the fountain of abuse. Paul Kiel reports:

If Dick Cheney or his right-hand lawyer David Addington are talking to Justice Department officials about individual cases, Congress wants to know about it. What could be the second law change to emerge from the U.S. attorney firings scandal passed the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would require the White House and Justice Department to detail in reports to Congress twice a year which Department officials had spoken to which White House officials about cases.

During questioning of Alberto Gonzales this spring, Whitehouse revealed that the Bush White House had thrown the door open to literally hundreds of White House officials being able to confer with Department officials about cases. A memo signed by John Ashcroft had initially opened the door. But a May, 2006 memo by Gonzales had exacerbated the problem and seemed to take special care in ensuring access for Cheney’s staff. Gonzales, under questioning, was characteristically befuddled by the document that he’d signed: “I’d have to go back and look at this…. I must say I’m troubled by this.”

Alberto Gonzales of course fully understood what was happening and why, and fully approved of it. What disturbed him was the fact that all of this was becoming public.

If the scheme to get the Edwards trial lawyer supporters is as described to me, then it was a criminal conspiracy and those involved in it need to be tracked down, removed from office for their abuses, and punished.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2018

Driven to Distraction

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Dinner Party

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Exiled

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Church and State

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Seven Years of Identity Theft

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Drinking Problems

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Exiled·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

It has become something of a commonplace to say that Mike Pence belongs to another era. He is a politician whom the New York Times has called a “throwback,” a “conservative proudly out of sync with his times,” and a “dangerous anachronism,” a man whose social policies and outspoken Christian faith are so redolent of the previous century’s culture wars that he appeared to have no future until, in the words of one journalist, he was plucked “off the political garbage heap” by Donald Trump and given new life. Pence’s rise to the vice presidency was not merely a personal advancement; it marked the return of religion and ideology to American politics at a time when the titles of political analyses were proclaiming the Twilight of Social Conservatism (2015) and the End of White Christian America (2016). It revealed the furious persistence of the religious right, an entity whose final demise was for so long considered imminent that even as white evangelicals came out in droves to support the Trump-Pence ticket, their enthusiasm was dismissed, in the Washington Post, as the movement’s “last spastic breath.”

Illustration by Andrew Zbihlyj
Article
Church and State·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Just after dawn in Lhamo, a small town on the northeastern corner of the Tibetan Plateau, horns summon the monks of Serti Monastery to prayer. Juniper incense smolders in the temple’s courtyard as monks begin arriving in huddled groups. Some walk the kora, a clockwise circumambulation around the building. Others hustle toward the main door, which sits just inside a porch decorated in bright thangka paintings. A pile of fur boots accumulates outside. When the last monks have arrived, the horn blowers leaning out of the second-floor windows retire indoors.

When I visited Lhamo in 2015, most monks at Serti attended the morning prayers, but not Ngawang Chötar, the vice president of the monastery’s management committee, or siguanhui. Instead, he could usually be found doing business somewhere on Lhamo’s main street. Like all Tibetan monks, he sports a buzz cut, and his gait, weighed down by dark crimson robes, resembles a penguin’s shuffle. When he forgets the password to his account on WeChat, China’s popular messaging service—a frequent occurrence—he waits for the town’s cell phone repairman at his favorite restaurant, piling the shells of sunflower seeds into a tidy mound.

Illustration by Simon Pemberton
Article
The Pictures·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

As he approached his death in 1987, the photographer Peter Hujar was all but unknown, with a murky reputation and a tiny, if elite, cult following. Slowly circling down what was then the hopeless spiral of ­AIDS, Peter had ceaselessly debated one decision, which he reached only with difficulty, and only when the end drew near. He was in a hospital bed when he made his will that summer, naming me the executor of his entire artistic estate—and also its sole owner.

The move transformed my life and induced a seething fury in lots of decent people. I can see why. Peter did not make me his heir for any of the usual reasons. I was a good and trusted friend, but he had scads of those. I was not the first person he considered for the job, nor was I the most qualified. In fact, I was a rank amateur, and my understanding of his art was limited. I knew his photographs were stunning, often upsetting, unpredictably beautiful, distinctively his. I also knew they were under­rated and neglected. But I did not then really grasp his achievement.

Photograph by Peter Hujar
Article
Drinking Problems·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The friendly waitress at the Pretty Prairie Steak House delivers tumblers of tap water as soon as diners take their seats. Across Main Street, the Wagon Wheel Café offers the same courtesy. Customers may also order coffee or iced tea, but it all starts at the same tap, and everyone is fine with that. This blasé attitude about drinking water surprised me: everyone in this little farm town in Reno County, Kansas, knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the liquid flowing from the municipal water tower was highly contaminated with nitrate, a chemical compound derived from fertilizer and connected to thyroid problems and various cancers. At the time I visited Pretty Prairie, last fall, nitrate levels there were more than double the federal standard for safe drinking water.

Illustration by Jen Renninger.
Article
Nothing But·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The truth—that thing I thought I was telling.—John Ashbery To start with the facts: the chapter in my book White Sands called “Pilgrimage” is about a visit to the house where the philosopher Theodor Adorno lived in Los Angeles during the Second World War. It takes its title from the story of that name by Susan Sontag (recently republished in Debriefing: Collected Stories) about a visit she and her friend Merrill made to the house of Adorno’s fellow German exile Thomas Mann in the Pacific Palisades, in 1947, when she was fourteen. It seemed strange that the story was originally …
Photograph by Augusta Wood

Percentage of US college students who have a better opinion of conservatives after their first year:

50

Plastic surgeons warned that people misled by wide-angle distortion in selfies were seeking nose jobs.

Trump fires missiles at Syria, a former FBI director likens Trump to a Mafia boss, and New Yorkers mistake a racoon for a tiger.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Report — From the June 2013 issue

How to Make Your Own AR-15

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"Gun owners have long been the hypochondriacs of American politics. Over the past twenty years, the gun-rights movement has won just about every battle it has fought; states have passed at least a hundred laws loosening gun restrictions since President Obama took office. Yet the National Rifle Association has continued to insist that government confiscation of privately owned firearms is nigh. The NRA’s alarmism helped maintain an active membership, but the strategy was risky: sooner or later, gun guys might have realized that they’d been had. Then came the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, followed swiftly by the nightmare the NRA had been promising for decades: a dedicated push at every level of government for new gun laws. The gun-rights movement was now that most insufferable of species: a hypochondriac taken suddenly, seriously ill."

Subscribe Today