Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Sordid Tale

When the "center-left" Los Angeles Times editorial board gets its collective knickers in a twist, you just know something is terribly, terribly wrong. In this case it's the "circus" surrounding the Ted Stevens trial, and the editorial board is correct: the whole thing stinks.

For that matter, we're still trying to figure out which of the clowns in the courthouse circus presented by Stevens' corruption trial is the biggest disgrace: the prominent Republican senator himself, who is loudly trumpeting his vindication despite ample evidence that he accepted expensive gifts without disclosing them as required by law; the federal prosecutors who botched the case against him and committed serious ethical breaches, if not outright crimes, by failing to give evidence to the defense; or one of our least favorite Alaska politicians (and that's saying something), Gov. Sarah Palin, whose disingenuous calls for a new senatorial election are a transparent ploy to further her own political ambitions.

That's amazingly strong language for the Los Angeles Times, but it's fitting. The case against the corrupt senator from Alaska should have been a slam dunk. The evidence was there and was overwhelming. The prosecutors, however, got cute and withheld some evidence from the defense in a bizarre game known in legal circles as "hiding the salami" even after they were ordered to deliver it to the defense attorneys by the judge.

Why? It's not likely that even with the criminal investigation ordered by the same judge the reasons will emerge as clear-cut, although I sure would like to be wrong in this instance. There are several possibilities currently circulating.

First, the prosecutorial misconduct might have been intentional as a cagey way to save Mr. Stevens' bacon. By behaving so egregiously, the case against the senator would be thrown out and he would walk away without any penalties.

Second, and the obverse of the first possibility, the misconduct was encouraged by the White House as a way to punish Mr. Stevens who had annoyed or exasperated one of the powers running the executive branch.

Third, and much more likely in my opinion, the prosecutors engaged in that kind of misconduct because they could. After eight years of Ashcroft and Gonzales as Attorneys General, the Justice Department lawyers came to believe that legal protections were a farce and that cases were to be won at any cost. Playing by the rules, including such constitutional guarantees as Due Process, just didn't apply to them. They had no rules.

Whatever the reasons, however, Eric Holder, the current AG, really had no choice: he had to move to dismiss the charges against Ted Stevens. He had an angry Federal Court judge breathing heavily down his back. He also had to get the word out to the rest of the Justice Department that the days of "no rules for prosecutors" were gone. I would have preferred that Mr. Holder move against the prosecutors in the Don Siegelman case, which smells even worse, but the timing just wasn't right for that move.

I just hope that the new Attorney General is looking at Gov. Siegelman's case and all of the other high profile cases that smell as bad. I also hope he follows through on cleaning up his department and returning it to one that operates within the guidelines of the US Constitution. That would be change we all could welcome.

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Anonymous ql said...

I agree, that the timing just isn't right for the Seigleman case, though I have hopes there as well.

3:38 AM  
Anonymous Nancy Willing said...

The first premise holds water. It certainly passed through my mind.

5:22 AM  
Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Wtf are you talking about: the timing's not right?

When is the timing going to be 'right'er than now?

The truth of the matter is that it's (still? always?) the right time to let Pukes off the hook.

And Holder's DoJ has issued felony complaints against that monkeywrencher, Tiim DeChristopher, who screwed with the illegal energy leases in Utah last year...

I tend to think your scenario #1 is the accurate description: the fix was ALWAYS in...

Yea, I am an inveterate "cynic."

7:03 AM  

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