Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thornburgh's Charge and Louisiana Politics

It's one thing for a possible victim (like former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman) of selective political prosecution to make such a claim, but things change considerably when a prominent Republican adds his voice to the chorus.

Not just any Republican. A former U.S. Attorney General in two earlier Republican administrations.

Yesterday, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Attorney General Richard Thornburgh said he believes the Bush administration's Justice Department has engaged in selective targeting of Democrats for criminal prosecution.

Here's an excerpt from the Washington Post's coverage:
Richard L. Thornburgh, who served as attorney general under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, accused the Justice Department yesterday of prosecuting a prominent Pennsylvania Democrat for political reasons, one of a series of cases singled out by House Democrats as examples of alleged GOP meddling at the Justice Department.

Thornburgh, who served as attorney general from 1988 to 1991 and whose law firm represents Cyril Wecht, a nationally known coroner from Pittsburgh, testified yesterday that Wecht had been indicted for mail fraud and a "hodgepodge" of other charges by overzealous prosecutors keen on pleasing political appointees in Washington.

"He has always been a contentious, outspoken, highly critical and highly visible Democratic figure in western Pennsylvania," Thornburgh told the House Judiciary Committee. "In other words, he would qualify as an ideal target for a Republican U.S. attorney trying to curry favor with a department which demonstrated that if you play by its rules, you will advance."

Thornburgh also said that Wecht "was not the only apparent political prosecution in western Pennsylvania," pointing to three high-profile cases of other local Democrats brought by U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of Pittsburgh.
The Los Angeles Times included this information:
"We should not allow any citizen of the United States to proceed to trial knowing that his prosecution may have been undertaken for political reasons as opposed to being done to serve the interests of justice," Thornburgh said. "Sadly, that appears to have been so in the case against Dr. Wecht."

The U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, Mary Beth Buchanan, denied that politics had influenced prosecutions. "The prosecution of Dr. Wecht is based solely on the facts and the law. The government intends to try this case in a court of law, where it belongs and is still pending," she said in a statement.

The possibility that political motives fueled corruption cases during the Bush administration stems from allegations turned up in hearings this summer over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year. Some of the prosecutors said they believed they were dismissed because they refused to bring cases that would benefit Republican officeholders.

The judiciary panel also heard about potential irregularities in the prosecution of a former Democratic governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman, who was sentenced to more than seven years in prison after being convicted on federal corruption charges last year. The case has drawn interest because of an Alabama Republican activist's allegation that then-White House political strategist Karl Rove put pressure on the Justice Department to pursue Siegelman.
The New York Times story added this:
Mr. Thornburgh noted that Ms. Buchanan had conducted a series of high-profile corruption investigations against Pennsylvania Democrats in the months before the 2006 midterm elections, including the one against the former coroner, Cyril Wecht.

“During this same period, not one Republican officeholder was investigated and/or prosecuted by Ms. Buchanan’s office — not one,” Mr. Thornburgh said, noting that there had been accusations of corruption against two prominent Republican members of Congress from Pennsylvania in that same period. He said that Dr. Wecht, a nationally prominent forensic pathologist, “would qualify as an ideal target for a Republican U.S. attorney trying to curry favor with a department which demonstrated that if you play by its rules, you will advance.”
So, what's this got to do with Louisiana? Consider, for a moment, the late September charges brought against a Morgan City man. Here's how The Advocate in Baton Rouge described the case in their September 29 article:
MORGAN CITY — The husband of a state representative is accused of employing at least five illegal immigrants in a case built on statements from the migrants and a former office worker, according to court documents.

Lenny J. Dartez, husband of state Rep. Carla Dartez, D-Morgan City, and a member of the Louisiana Democratic Party’s central committee, was arrested Tuesday on a federal complaint of harboring illegal aliens.
Here are some other bits provided by The Advocate:
A former office worker for the company told agents that Dartez and his office manager allegedly knew the Trinidadians were illegal and processed their payroll information separately from other employees, according to the complaint.

The office worker, who quit the company in May because of a conflict with another employee, also told agents that she recalled from 12 to 15 illegal immigrants from Trinidad working at the company in 2007, according to the complaint.

The investigation of Lenny Dartez began with an anonymous tip that men from Trinidad were living in a group of mobile homes in Amelia and working for his company.

Agents who responded to the tip detained five Trinidad nationals in May, three of whom were riding in a van registered to a Lenny Dartez company and driven by a Dartez employee, according to court documents.
So, of all the oilfield companies operating in Amelia and the Morgan City area, where there is no shortage of foreign nationals working in various capacities, it just so happened that the only company that could be fingered for alleged employing of illegals happened to be owned by a member of the Democratic State Central Committee whose wife happened to be a Democratic member of the Louisiana Legislature.

And, did I mention that Carla Dartez's Republican opponent was backed by an organization headed by a Bush Pioneer?

An amazing chain of coincidences, isn't it? Or, is what the character V said in "V for Vendetta" true? "There are no coincidences, merely the illusion of coincidences."

Here's why this matters, according to Thornburgh:
“The citizens of the United States must have confidence that the department is conducting itself in a fair and impartial manner without actual political influence or the appearance of political influence,” said Mr. Thornburgh, who is now in private practice.
Even in Louisiana.

1 comment:

Third Rail said...

Tune in tonight for out interview with world-renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht. Feel free to call in and talk to him on air. Check it out at 8 pm EST Wed. Dec. 5th at thirdrailradio.com.

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