Executive Branch

Former AG Says DOJ Politicized Prosecution

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After a relatively convivial two-day confirmation hearing last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning President Bush’s nomination of Michael Mukasey to be the new U.S. attorney general, the gloves were off again today in a House Judiciary Committee hearing over alleged improper White House political influence in Department of Justice prosecutions under former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

When a former U.S. Attorney General under the first President Bush said in testimony today that the current White House administration apparently politicized the prosecution of a high-profile Democratic coroner from Pennsylvania, in a case that is still pending, a Republican representative read him the riot act, according to the Washington Post. Meanwhile, two unrelated corruption cases were cited as additional alleged examples of politically motivated DOJ prosecution: the successful prosecution of Don Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama, and the reversed conviction of Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin state procurement official.

Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, now a lawyer in private practice in Pennsylvania, working for a law firm that is representing the coroner, Cyril Wecht, told the House Judiciary Committee today that the DOJ had political goals in filing theft, mail fraud and wire fraud charges. Although politics should never play a role in deciding whether to prosecute, “sadly, that appears to have been so in the case against Dr. Wecht,” Thornburgh testified.

In response, the former AG was blasted by Rep. Ric Keller, R-Fla. “Your testimony to be blunt is the most pathetic example of … hearsay and innuendo that I’ve heard in my seven years on this committee,” he told Thornburgh. “It’s so farfetched that I’m almost embarrassed being an attorney listening to it.”

As discussed in an earlier ABAJournal.com posts, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a highly unusual oral ruling, following a hearing this past spring, that Thompson was to be immediately released from prison and followed up with a written opinion saying there was no basis for the prosecution. (Although it prompted scathing criticism of those responsible for the prosecution, the opinion itself cast some blame on overly broad federal criminal legislation.)

As other ABAJournal.com posts discuss, Siegelman contends he was targeted for prosecution in order to eliminate him as political threat to Republicans, and the House is now investigating the issue—as a national group of dozens of former top state prosecutors requested. In a deposition, a Republican lawyer has backed at least some of Siegelman’s claims.

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