Another Layer of Scandal
Monday 09 April 2007
As Congress investigates the politicization of the United States attorney offices by the Bush administration, it should review the extraordinary events the other day in a federal courtroom in Wisconsin. The case involved Georgia Thompson, a state employee sent to prison on the flimsiest of corruption charges just as her boss, a Democrat, was fighting off a Republican challenger. It just might shed some light on a question that lurks behind the firing of eight top federal prosecutors: what did the surviving attorneys do to escape the axe?
Ms. Thompson, a purchasing official in the state's Department of Administration, was accused by the United States attorney in Milwaukee, Steven Biskupic, of awarding a travel contract to a company whose chief executive contributed to the campaign of Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. Ms. Thompson said the decision was made on the merits, but she was convicted and sent to prison before she could appeal.
The prosecution was a boon to Mr. Doyle's opponent. Republicans ran a barrage of attack ads that purported to tie Ms. Thompson's "corruption" to Mr. Doyle. Ms. Thompson was sentenced shortly before the election, which Governor Doyle won.
The Chicago-based United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit seemed shocked by the injustice of her conviction. It took the extraordinary step of releasing Ms. Thompson from prison immediately after hearing arguments, without waiting to issue a ruling. One of the judges hinted that Ms. Thompson may have been railroaded. "It strikes me that your evidence is beyond thin," Judge Diane Wood told the lawyer from Mr. Biskupic's office.
Ms. Thompson's case is not the only one raising questions about whether prosecutors tried last year to tilt close elections toward the Republicans. New Jersey's federal prosecutor conducted an investigation of weak-looking allegations against Senator Robert Menendez that was used in Republican ads.
Congress should look into both cases to determine whether partisan politics played a role - and whether they were coordinated with anyone at the Justice Department or the White House.
The list of things to investigate keeps growing. A federal agency that protects the rights of military employees is now investigating the firing of David Iglesias, the New Mexico United States attorney. Justice Department officials said he was fired in part because he was out of the office due to his commitments as a Navy military reservist. If so, the firing may have been illegal.
There is also trouble in the Minnesota United States attorney's office, where the administration recently installed Rachel Paulose, a 34-year-old with scant management experience. Three of her top assistants have resigned their management positions, and The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that they did so out of dissatisfaction with her. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, said the resignations were more evidence of the attorneys' offices being "deprofessionalized."
The White House is resisting making Karl Rove; Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel; and other top officials available to Congress. Mr. Schumer proposed last week that their testimony could, at least as a first step, be taken in private, but with a transcript.
Clearly, he made the offer to move the investigation forward. But any agreement to conduct such interviews should make it clear that they would be followed by open testimony before Congress. The integrity of the Justice Department is a matter of overriding importance. Voters should be able to see and hear the testimony for themselves.