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Lucky Strike?


If the Bush Administration did nothing wrong, why are they so afraid to allow Karl Rove and his political cronies to publicly proclaim their innocence to all the world?  If there was no politics and political hackery involved, why hide behind no transcript and no "on the record" and no public accountability?   Why this tap dance if there was no attempt to pervert the rule of law with political hatchet machinations? 

What is the Bush White House so afraid of, I keep asking myself?  Sidney Blumenthal has a theory in Salon this morning: 

The man Bush has nicknamed "Fredo," the weak and betraying brother of the Corleone family, is, unlike Fredo, a blind loyalist, and will not be dispatched with a shot to the back of the head in a rowboat on the lake while reciting his Ave Maria. (Is Bush aware that Colin Powell refers to him as "Sonny," after the hothead oldest son?) But saving "Fredo" doesn't explain why Bush is willing to risk a constitutional crisis. Why is Bush going to the mattresses against the Congress? What doesn't he want known?

In the U.S. attorneys scandal, Gonzales was an active though second-level perpetrator. While he gave orders, he also took orders. Just as his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, has resigned as a fall guy, so Gonzales would be yet another fall guy if he were to resign. He was assigned responsibility for the purge of U.S. attorneys but did not conceive it. The plot to transform the U.S. attorneys and ipso facto the federal criminal justice system into the Republican Holy Office of the Inquisition had its origin in Karl Rove's fertile mind.

Just after Bush's reelection and before his second inauguration, as his administration's hubris was running at high tide, Rove dropped by the White House legal counsel's office to check on the plan for the purge. An internal e-mail, dated Jan. 6, 2005, and circulated within that office, quoted Rove as asking "how we planned to proceed regarding the U.S. attorneys, whether we are going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc." Three days later, Sampson, in an e-mail, "Re: Question from Karl Rove," wrote: "As an operational matter we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current U.S. attorneys — the underperforming ones …The vast majority of U.S. attorneys, 80-85 percent I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc."

The disclosure of the e-mails establishing Rove's centrality suggests not only the political chain of command but also the hierarchy of coverup. Bush protects Gonzales in order to protect those who gave Gonzales his marching orders — Rove and Bush himself.  (emphasis mine)

That Karl Rove would stand up and cry foul for anyone trying to politicize anything is ludicrous. The man's entire existence is built on a foundation of working the political angle until the public bends to your way of spinning.

There was a curious piece in yesterday's LATimes, that now raises a whole lot more questions in my mind as to what is next in the USAs story and the saga of the unravelling DoJ and "Karl's shop" politicization and perversion of the rule of law under the Bush Administration.  From the LATimes:

Senior Justice Department officials began drafting memos this month listing specific reasons why they had fired eight U.S. attorneys, intending to cite performance problems such as insubordination, leadership failures and other missteps if needed to convince angry congressional Democrats that the terminations were justified….

The prosecutors' shortcomings also were listed in a talking-points memo, indicating the willingness of the Justice Department to make public what are normally confidential personnel matters in order to counter its critics.

Any attorney who works in employment matters can tell you — up front — that preparing documents post hoc to buttress your employment termination decisions, and then leaking that information publicly to bolster your public credibility smacks of desperation and lying.  This morning's WaPo gives us one of the many reasons why the panic may have set in a month ago at the highest reaches of the DoJ and Karl's political shop at the Bush White House.  Say hello to political interference on behalf of Big Tobacco.

From the WaPo

The leader of the Justice Department team that prosecuted a landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies said yesterday that Bush administration political appointees repeatedly ordered her to take steps that weakened the government's racketeering case.

Sharon Y. Eubanks said Bush loyalists in Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's office began micromanaging the team's strategy in the final weeks of the 2005 trial, to the detriment of the government's claim that the industry had conspired to lie to U.S. smokers.

She said a supervisor demanded that she and her trial team drop recommendations that tobacco executives be removed from their corporate positions as a possible penalty. He and two others instructed her to tell key witnesses to change their testimony. And they ordered Eubanks to read verbatim a closing argument they had rewritten for her, she said.

"The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said," Eubanks said. "And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public."

Eubanks, who served for 22 years as a lawyer at Justice, said three political appointees were responsible for the last-minute shifts in the government's tobacco case in June 2005: then-Associate Attorney General Robert D. McCallum, then-Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler and Keisler's deputy at the time, Dan Meron.

News reports on the strategy changes at the time caused an uproar in Congress and sparked an inquiry by the Justice Department. Government witnesses said they had been asked to change testimony, and one expert withdrew from the case. Government lawyers also announced that they were scaling back a proposed penalty against the industry from $130 billion to $10 billion.

This is far from the first time that I have heard about potential political meddling in a case brought by US Attorneys. But this one is enormous in terms of the cost to America's taxpayers in lost settlement dollars (hello, Big Tobacco GOP donors!).  And it is only one of many, many areas where political influence may have become the primary concern in charging and prosecutorial decisions. 

See more from Eubanks in this 2006 interview of her for TobaccoBlog.  (H/T to HotFlash for the link.)

Eubanks described the DOJ effort as “The little engine that could.” She felt the trial had had significant victories along the way, not least of which was just plain keeping the case alive. One of those life-sustaining victories was surviving a Federal budget crisis. Observers at the time were almost sure that the Bush Administration would put the DOJ on a starvation budget woefully inadequate to battling the tobacco industry–or simply refuse to fund the effort. But the Tobacco Litigation Team–to the surprise of many– was re-funded.

Eubanks felt the administration had little confidence in the Tobacco Legal Team’s ability to prosecute the case. “They didn’t think we’d know what to do with [the money],” she said. They seemed to be saying, “‘Let them hang themselves.’”

A frequent tactic in doing away with prosecutions that are not favored by the political types is to either starve the team of the funds needed to prosecute the case or to promote all the competent people out of prosecuting it (who can complain if they are given a promotion right out of the very public corruption cases that they are moving forward so successfully, right?)

One only need look to the recess appointment of Alice Fisher, DeLay pal, to head up the public corruption prosecutions in the vast mess that is the Abramoff corruption scandal.  And then ask yourself:  Jack Abramoff has been working with the FBI and coughing up all sorts of information according to numerous reports — where are the additional indictments after all this time?

The NYTimes has a puff piece about "Presidential prerogatives," quoting all sorts of Republican political strategists on the beest machinations and maneuvers that the White House can pull out of its hat to keep from having to tell the public the truth about what they have tried to do to the legal system in this country.  The current WH line is that any public hearing is a "show trial" and that the public isn't entitled to know a damn thing about what the President does or does not know about all of this, thank you very much, because the Republican Party doesn't want any taint from Karl Rove under oath to spill over onto them for the next election cycle.

Well, I don't care one whit about the political pressures on either side fo the aisle on this.  You want to know what is irritating me about this entire mess this morning?  Obstruction of justice on political terms.  A prosecutor is faced with evidence of a crime — and that prosecutor is bound by law and by ethics to follow that evidence where it leads, even to follow it where the prosecutor does not want to go.  What that means is this:  politics should never be the guiding force in charging and investigative decisions.  Period.

That the Bush White House has so perverted the system that I am even asking myself whether each and every prosecution that has been brought deserves public scrutiny for politicization is bad enough.  That I have been asking myself whether the appointments to a lifetime service on the federal bench are equally tainted is the next step — and I am well past that point.

As an American citizen, as a lawyer, and as someone who beleives wholeheartedly in the principles behind the rule of law, I say this with as much disgust and disdain as I can muster:  these people must answer publicly for their role in attempting to subvert the foundations of American government and justice.  That means full testimony, under oath and in public.  Anything less wil leave questions lingering in the minds of each and every lawyer who works within the criminal justice system — and that taint cannot be allowed to stand.

The Bush Administration made the decision to pervert the system of justice with their vile, political hackery.  They can damn well stand up like adults and face the music for it.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com