Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Justice Is Not A Pony

I never expected the Obama administration to prosecute George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice and Don Rumsfeld for murder, though I personally am convinced, along with famed prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, that justice demands indictments on this charge. I am a realist about how historically unprecedented such an undertaking would be in this country. The prosecution of such a case might generate controversy beyond the imagination of the average American. I acknowledge the danger within our ideologically contentious culture, but I believe the concept of justice trumps the divisiveness the pursuit may cause. But I also acknowledge this desire was at the top of a personal wish list as I witnessed the dawn of regime change. I'm well aware that Barack Obama never made any promises, either during or after the campaign for the Presidency, that he would open any new investigations of criminal activity in the Bush administration. My support has no blinders, even before Eric Holder was confirmed as the new Attorney General under the administration of President Obama.

The problem that I and others have encountered upon lamenting the lack of justice for Valerie Plame, Sibel Edmonds, Don Siegelman, Russell Tice or the victims of a war based on lies is that whenever this is addressed in the context of our current Department of Justice failing to take action, many supporters of President Obama interpret such criticism as insulting. After all, if President Obama never made a promise to do anything about those specific cases, why should we criticize Holder's DoJ for not doing anything about it? In some cases, the defense breaks down into condescending hyperbole with the accusation that to desire something the Obama administration never promised is to ask for a "pony". A particularly odious cliche designed to express that the demand of the critic is a fantastical wish as childish as Christmas Eve longings that a pony will be found under the tree the following morning.

As of last week, you can add the name David Iglesias to the list of ponies I had the audacity to wish justice for:

DOJ: Prosecutor firing was politics, not crime

updated 7/21/2010 4:53:26 PM ET

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration's Justice Department's actions were inappropriately political, but not criminal, when it fired a U.S. attorney in 2006, prosecutors said Wednesday in closing a two-year investigation without filing charges.
The decision closes the books on one of the lingering political disputes of the Bush administration, one that Democrats said was evidence of GOP politics run amok and that Republicans have always said was a manufactured controversy.
Investigators looked into whether the Bush administration improperly dismissed nine U.S. attorneys, and in particular New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, as a way to influence criminal cases. The scandal added to mounting criticism that the administration had politicized the Justice Department, a charge that contributed to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
In 2008, the Justice Department assigned Nora Dannehy, a career prosecutor from Connecticut with a history of rooting out government wrongdoing, to investigate the firings.
"Evidence did not demonstrate that any prosecutable criminal offense was committed with regard to the removal of David Iglesias," the Justice Department said in a letter to lawmakers Wednesday. "The investigative team also determined that the evidence did not warrant expanding the scope of the investigation beyond the removal of Iglesias."

So the end result in this bizarro upside down pursuit of "justice" is that Karl Rove and Co. committed no wrongdoing and those who spoke ill of former AG Alberto "Fredo" Gonzales should apologize. Because the prosecutor in charge of this case has "a history of rooting out government wrongdoing" and so she must be above reproach, right?
Not so fast:

Prosecutor Who Cleared Bush Officials Has Ties to Misconduct

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Tue Jul 27, 2010 at 08:26:19 AM PDT

Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
The special prosecutor who last week cleared Bush administration officials of criminal acts in the firings of nine U.S. attorneys was connected to evidence suppression in an earlier case.
Nora Dannehy led a team of lawyers that was found to have suppressed evidence in a major political-corruption case in Connecticut, according to a new report by Andrew Kreig at Nieman Watchdog and OpEd News.
The finding of evidence suppression against Dannehy's team dovetails closely with her appointment as special prosecutor in the U.S. attorney firings case. It also raises questions about a Justice Department investigation into a possible Bush-era coverup on torture.

Kreig, a veteran journalist and lawyer, is executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project. He reports:
In September 2008, the Bush Justice Department appointed career federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy to investigate allegations that Bush officials in 2006 illegally fired nine U.S. attorneys who wouldn’t politicize official corruption investigations.
But just four days before her appointment, a federal appeals court had ruled that a team of prosecutors led by Dannehy illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case in Connecticut. The prosecutors’ misconduct was so serious that the court vacated seven of the eight convictions in the case.
The evidence-suppression story was covered in the Connecticut press, but it apparently never received scrutiny when Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey named Dannehy a special prosecutor. Does the public have reason to doubt Dannehy's judgment now that she has found criminal charges were not warranted in the U.S. attorney firings? The Connecticut case indicates the answer is yes. Writes Kreig:
The ruling didn’t cite Dannehy by name, and although it was publicly reported it apparently never came up in the news coverage of her appointment.
But it now calls into question the integrity of her investigation by raising serious concerns about her credibility--and about whether she was particularly vulnerable to political pressure from within the Justice Department.
Kreig puts the profoundly important U.S. attorneys story in perspective:
Now, almost two years later, Dannehy has provided arguably the most important blanket exoneration for high-level U.S. criminal targets since President George H.W. Bush pardoned six Iran-Contra convicts post-election in late 1992.
The DOJ announced on July 21 that it has "closed the case" on the nine unprecedented mid-term firings because Dannehy found no criminal wrongdoing by DOJ or White House officials.
But the official description of her inquiry indicates that she either placed or acceded to constraints on the scope of her probe that restricted it to the firing of just one of the ousted U.S. attorneys, not the others--and not to the conduct of the U.S. attorneys who weren't ousted because they met whatever tests DOJ and the White House created.
Some observers have called Dannehy's findings a "whitewash"--or worse. Reports Kreig:
"This is an outrageous act of cowardice and cover-up!" former Alabama governor and alleged political prosecution victim Don Siegelman emailed me regarding DOJ’s decision and the failure to interview him.
Given what Kreig has revealed about Dannehy's background, perhaps we should have been expecting such a result all along. Reports Kreig:
Dannehy’s probe, my reporting suggests, was compromised from the beginning.
She was appointed by Bush Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey on Sept. 29, 2008. On Sept. 25, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City found misconduct in a 2003 trial she had led.
The court found that the prosecution suppressed evidence that could have benefited the defendant, Connecticut businessman Charles B. Spadoni. Spadoni had been convicted of bribing former state Treasurer Paul Silvester to invest $200 million of state pension money with his firm.
But the appeals court found that prosecutors had failed to turn over to the defense an FBI agent’s notes of a key interview they conducted with Silvester's attorney. In doing so, the court ruled, "the government deprived Spadoni of exculpatory evidence going to the core of its bribery case against him."
The court reversed Spadoni’s convictions on seven counts of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud, leaving intact only an obstruction of justice conviction.
Where does the ongoing torture investigation enter the picture? Kreig provides the answer:
As it happens, the Spadoni case also raises concerns relative to the ongoing federal probe of potential Bush administration wrongdoing in covering up torture that is being led by John H. Durham, another prosecutor from Connecticut. Durham supervised Dannehy’s decade-long prosecution of Spadoni.
He also was appointed by Mukasey in 2008. Durham’s initial charge was to investigate suspected destruction of torture tapes by CIA personnel. In 2009, Holder expanded that probe to other decision-making, including by DOJ personnel.
Until now, neither DOJ nor anyone else has linked Dannehy and Durham by name to the prosecutorial misconduct against Spadoni, as far as I can determine. The court decision doesn’t cite specific actions by the two. But it clearly refers to their case, and the information is readily available online in Lexis and in any good law library.
Have Dannehy and Durham faced any repercussions for their actions in the Spadoni case? That remains unclear:
Prosecutors found by a court to have committed misconduct typically face some sort of internal investigation within the Justice Department. Whether there was any such investigation, and why or why not, is not publicly known.
For now, it appears that compromised special prosecutors were in charge of investigations into both the U.S. attorney firings and possible torture-related coverups. In the case of Dannehy, we know that her investigation was cursory, at best. And that, Kreig says, should give all Americans pause:
Dannehy never contacted obvious witnesses who may have been victimized by wrongdoing. Is there a good reason for that, or is it part of a pattern in which prosecutors tend to find scant wrongdoing against their colleagues? A question reporters need to pursue is whether a culture of error and cover-up prevailed in the Department of Justice under Bush and continues under President Obama. It is one thing to want to look forward, as Obama stated as he took office. But it is wrong and immoral for our criminal system not to examine what appear to be obvious abuses that discredit the justice system, local and regional politics, and, indeed, our nation’s standing in the world as a beacon of democracy and civil rights.

We've been down this road before. A Republican administration rejected by voters because of its connection with scandal and corruption. This was the story as we witnessed the exit of Dubya's father, President George H. W. Bush, who before leaving the White House managed to pardon the convicted Iran/Contra felons, in spite of growing concern that the scandal was financed through an international criminal syndicate posing as a bank called BCCI. The Department of Justice response under the Clinton administration? Swept under the rug. The price for abdicating the pursuit of justice? Eight years later, George W. Bush hired many of these criminals into his administration.

Is it too much to ask that our Department of Justice actually pursue justice? I asked this question when Ashcroft and Gonzales held the post and I ask it again of Eric Holder. The promise of justice in this country goes beyond any campaign, beyond any party, beyond any ideology. It is a value enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, codified in our Constitution, and venerated by people of good conscience everywhere. It is not a pony.


Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

I'm so impressed with how you've woven your research into this post. The pony metaphor is just the proverbial icing on the cake - superb writing!

Robert Paulsen said...

Thank you so much! I always appreciate your editorial advice. Fascinating events are unfolding which will hopefully continue to inspire my writing.