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Claim of a Federal Corruption Investigation Backfires

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In March, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio withdrew their controversial federal racketeering lawsuit against several judges, county officials and others. But not without fireworks, including some that blew up in their faces.

On March 11, Arpaio and Thomas formally withdrew the nasty suit, citing assurances that the U.S. Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section would “review the matter.” And that afternoon—accompanied by their lawyer, Robert Driscoll—the two announced that a federal investigation was under way.

Driscoll, now in the Washington, D.C., offices of Alston & Bird, had served as deputy assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division during the first few years of the George W. Bush administration. And Arpaio implied that Driscoll’s connections had assured a federal review of the sheriff and prosecutor’s long-standing claims of corruption among his political enemies.

The next day Driscoll got a scathing letter (PDF) from Raymond Hulser, PIN’s acting chief, chastising him for making more out of their conversation than was there. Copies found their way to Phoenix news organizations that same afternoon.

Hulser reminded Driscoll that they had spoken only briefly and that he had expected a written summary of the matter, not a huge dump of thousands of paper and electronic documents. “That production was uncalled for, and we do not intend to review the entire file,” Hulser wrote.

Hulser also was taken aback that a brief and general phone conversation with Driscoll had been used in unexpected ways: “In these circumstances, I was dismayed to learn that your mere referral of information to the Public Integrity Section was cited and relied upon in a pleading in federal court and then used as a platform for a press conference.”

Justice Department officials had scant reason to favor Driscoll and his clients, anyway.

Since early last year Driscoll has represented Arpaio in a federal investigation of alleged civil rights violations in the arrest and detention of suspected illegal immigrants.

Last May, Driscoll wrote the DOJ to complain about the probe, saying that with the scrutiny coming so soon in a new administration, “it is difficult not to speculate that politics played a role in the decision” to investigate.

The investigations continue, separate from another federal grand jury looking at alleged abuses of power by Thomas and Arpaio.

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