Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Segregationist-style justice

Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich

This morning I say this item on Salon's home page:

Tuesday, Dec. 09, 2008
Illinois Gov. Blagojevich arrested Federal authorities arrested Blagojevich, a Democrat, on Tuesday; among other things, they're investigating his process for selecting Barack Obama's replacement
My first thought was, good grief! The Bush Justice Department is arresting a governor to prevent him from appointing a replacement Senator!

Now, it didn't occur to me right away that the US Attorney for the Chicago area is Patrick Fitzgerald, who has more credibility than John Ashcroft, Abu Gonzales and Michael Mukasy combined.

But I don't like having that suspicion be the first thought that pops into my head. I certainly don't want to assume without knowing more that the person arrested and charged with some crime is guilty. But I would like to have some basic level of confidence that the Justice Department and its US Attorneys wouldn't take such an action unless they had substantial reasons to believe a crime had been committed. And I would like to be able to have that confidence without knowing the head prosecutor by name and individual reputation.

I don't have any such level of confidence in this Justice Department. Just what I've heard about the Don Siegelman case alone would make me dubious. See Siegelman Appeal Argued this Week by Scott Horton, No Comment blog 12/06/08; Horton is a human rights specialist who has been the leading voice in exposing the extreme irregularities in the prosecution of the former Alabama Democratic Governor. Horton writes:

In 1798, the Federalists decided to silence an outspoken Democratic Congressman, Matthew Lyon, by prosecuting and imprisoning him. But the effort backfired. Lyon was reelected from prison, and in 1800 he cast from his prison cell the decisive vote ending the rule of the Federalists and starting the first administration of the Democratic Party, under Thomas Jefferson. The Federalist’s grip on power was shattered and they soon disappeared from the political scene altogether. The Lyon prosecution was viewed by American historians as the most outrageous political prosecution in the nation’s history… until the Bush Justice Department’s prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman, that is.
Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party was actually commonly referred to as the Republican Party back then. But Horton's label for Matthew Lyon is fine to avoid confusion in a short post.

Add to that the suspiciously high number of prosecutions of Democratic officials on various corruption charges compared to Republicans. And the spurious attempts to cook up "voter fraud" cases to support the Republicans' vote-suppression efforts, efforts that come straight out of the segregationist playbook. And the US Attorney's firing scandal, which had those "voter fraud" cases at its center. And the blatant misconduct of the department in illegally applying Christian Right and partisan Republican political standards to hiring career staff. And the connivance of the Justice Department in helping Bush officials to evade the law on torture and illegal surveillance. And the ludicrous claims this department has made about terrorism, like John Ashcroft's famous - and apparently completely groundless - claim back in 2001 that there could be as many as 5,000 Al Qa'ida "sleeper agents" in the US. And the fact that their investigation of the still-unsolved anthrax attacks in 2001 has been disgraceful.

It doesn't add up to a pretty picture. It doesn't look like a country whose national government is serious about applying the rule of law.

This is not going to be adequately cleaned up just by the Justice Department behaving honestly and professional going forward. The most serious crimes committed by malfeasant prosecutors and senior officials facilitating lawbreaking need to be investigated and prosecuted, honestly and by the book. Ironically, the Republicans and their echo chamber on hate radio,the blogosphere and the punditocracy will scream that those will be "political prosecutions". Let them scream. The point is that officials in the government under either Party need to know in the future that if they break the law in these ways, there's a strong liklihood that they will suffer serious legal consequences.

That is, after all, what the rule of law is about.

On the Blogojevich arrest, the Chicago Tribune Online reports on it in Feds arrest Gov. Blagojevich 12/09/08:

On the issue of the U.S. Senate selection, federal prosecutors alleged Blagojevich sought appointment as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the new Obama administration, or a lucrative job with a union in exchange for appointing a union-preferred candidate.

Blagojevich and Harris conspired to demand the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members responsible for editorials critical of Blagojevich in exchange for state help with the sale of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs baseball stadium owned by Tribune Co.

Blagojevich and Harris, along with others, obtained and sought to gain financial benefits for the governor, members of his family and his campaign fund in exchange for appointments to state boards and commissions, state jobs and state contracts.

"The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said in a statement. "They allege that Blagojevich put a 'for sale' sign on the naming of a United States senator; involved himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism."
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