Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Friday, April 03, 2009

Guilty Prosecutors?

This has been a dizzying week for deciding who is above the law or below it, with figures from Ted Stevens and Rod Blagojevich to the AIG bonus recipients parading before the public bench for reappraisal.

*The former Republican senator from Alaska gets a pass from a Democratic Attorney General on the grounds of bad behavior by prosecutors from the Bush Justice Department, which still faces unresolved accusations of firing eight federal prosecutors for not being political enough.

(Sarah Palin wants the Democrat who defeated Stevens to resign, but that idea has as much chance as the moose she shoots from airplanes.)

*The Disney World vacation of the impeached former Illinois governor is interrupted by news he has been charged with numerous counts of fraud and corruption, but only after successfully naming Barack Obama's successor to the US Senate.

His indictment raises again questions about the part played in his case by the universally sainted prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who went public with an inflammatory attack on Blagojevich in December but failed to charge him then. Was Fitzgerald's move, an obvious attempt to keep the governor from selling the seat, proper behavior for a federal prosecutor? Does it open the door to others hounding elected officials in less cut-and-dried cases?

*From, of all people, Fox News' usually rabidly wrong Glenn Beck comes a scathing interview with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal pressuring him for legal reasons for his public hounding of AIG bonus recipients, laying bare blatant political grandstanding by Blumenthal and, to a lesser degree, New York's Andrew Cuomo for political gain rather than duties of office. Beck wins that argument handily. Political piling on by officers of the law is an ugly sight, no matter who is at the bottom.

Eric Holder's action in the Stevens case is an encouraging sign that we are moving back to the traditional norms of rule by law but a New York Times editorial suggests more:

"He should not stop with this case. Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, and Paul Minor, a prominent Mississippi trial lawyer, have charged that Justice Department prosecutors engaged in unethical behavior in cases that led to their convictions. Both men claim that they were singled out for prosecution because of their affiliation with the Democratic Party.

"Given the flagrant partisanship of the Bush Justice Department, it is especially reassuring to see Mr. Holder ignore party lines to do the right thing by Mr. Stevens. It has been far too long since the attorney general seemed interested in enforcing ethics and nonpartisanship in a department that has been shockingly lacking in both."

It's time to reaffirm that, while nobody is above the law, neither is anyone below it.

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