Friday, January 16, 2009

Two Pieces Of Garbage Bush Is Leaving Behind Challenge Obama and Holder To Do Something About Them


Mary Beth Buchanan (extreme right) refuses to give up her office at DOJ

Bush appointed a lot of real slime throughout the government but few were as a dangerous to America as the ones he used to politicize the Justice Department, among them the worst contemptible partisan hacks imaginable. And none were as bad as fanatic wingnuts Mary Beth Buchanan of Pittsburgh and Alice Martin of Birmingham, each of whom has decided to refuse to give up their offices and are daring Obama to evict them. They claim they have lots of Democrats they want to prosecute and that they are entitled to stay right where they are. Personally I hope each is arrested and charged with trespassing on government property and with abetting terrorism by interfering with the functioning of the Justice Department. Long jail sentences would send a much-needed message to fellow Federalist Society saboteurs that the new administration intends to start protecting the rights of American working families from GOP predators. Scott Horton at the Daily Beast has the full-- and shocking-- story.
By tradition, political appointees serve at the pleasure of the president, and when a new president comes to office those who held their commissions from his predecessor tender their resignations. This year, however, Buchanan and Martin appear girded to make a last stand like Japanese soldiers who never got word that the war was over.

Last month, Buchanan released a letter stating that she had no intention of submitting her resignation. An ideologically committed Federalist Society member, Buchanan is close to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who actively promoted her as U.S. attorney. Following her appointment in 2001, Buchanan quickly gained the favor and approval of the White House. In the key period of 2004-05, while groundwork was laid for what later became the U.S. attorney's scandal, Buchanan served as director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, the key position at Justice that oversaw all the 94 U.S. attorneys. A later internal Justice Department probe, in which Buchanan figures prominently, highlights the role played by that office in Karl Rove’s plan to sack U.S. attorneys.

Back in Pittsburgh, Buchanan made a name for herself with two prosecutions. One was Operation Pipedream, a $12 million program designed to criminalize and put out of business Internet vendors of water pipes. She prosecuted famed actor Tommy Chong, one-half of the comedy duo of Cheech and Chong, because of his support of a company founded and run by his son. Chong had no criminal record, his activities were not (and are not) considered criminal by many legal experts, and Chong’s dealings had no connection to western Pennsylvania. But Buchanan used heavy-handed threats to compel Chong to agree to a guilty plea. In her sentencing memorandum, Buchanan insisted that Chong do prison time because he had starred in a number of films in which the use of marijuana was portrayed and prominent Republican political figures were ridiculed or mocked. The case is the subject of a popular documentary produced in 2005 entitled a/k/a Tommy Chong.

The second case is a corruption prosecution of one of the country’s most prominent medical examiners, Dr. Cyril Wecht, also not coincidentally a leading figure in Pittsburgh Democratic politics. The charges brought against Wecht involve a long list of petty accusations, including that he used his office telephone and fax machine for personal matters. These charges happen to bear remarkable similarity to accusations of petty improprieties that flew around Buchanan’s mentor Santorum in the two years before Pennsylvania voters retired him from public life in 2006. Buchanan, however, opted not to pursue any of the accusations surrounding Santorum. Wecht’s defense counsel, former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, who served under George H.W. Bush and was governor of Pennsylvania, testified before a House Judiciary inquiry that Buchanan’s prosecution was improper and politically motivated. "It is not the type of case normally constituting a federal 'corruption' case brought against a local official," said Thornburgh. "There is no allegation that Dr. Wecht ever solicited or received a bribe or kickback. There is no allegation that Dr. Wecht traded on a conflict of interest in conducting the affairs of his selected office." The case was originally tried before a judge appointed by George W. Bush who, though close to Buchanan, refused to recuse himself and forbade defense counsel in any way from referencing Buchanan’s political motivation. The trial ended in a hung jury, which divided sharply in favor of Wecht’s acquittal. Afterward, individual jurors harshly criticized Buchanan’s conduct and she responded by sending FBI agents to “interview” them.

Notwithstanding broad appeals from the Pennsylvania legal community for Buchanan to drop the case, she has pledged to continue it. The judge who originally oversaw the case, meanwhile, has been removed by order of an appeals court. Buchanan cites the supposedly unresolved Wecht case as a reason why she must stay on as U.S. attorney.

Buchanan’s colleague in tenacity is Alice Martin [pictured here on the left in a blood red dress], the U.S. attorney in Birmingham, Alabama. Martin gained a nationwide reputation through two failed prosecutions: the first of HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy for fraud relating to the collapse of the former health insurance giant; and the other of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Her conduct has been the subject of repeated investigations by Congress and the Justice Department’s ethics office, several of which are still pending. In the course of the last year, Martin has undertaken sweeping investigations targeting a large part of the state’s Democratic legislators and the Democratic mayor and city administration in Birmingham. She manages these cases in close collaboration with friendly Republican oriented media, which usually feature detailed accounts of her investigations and her proposed proof as the investigations conclude and arrests are undertaken.

Martin has a flair for drama. One of her targets is a 63-year-old retired social studies teacher from Huntsville named Sue Schmitz, who was taken from her home at the crack of dawn and manhandled by five FBI agents who tore her skin and left her bleeding as she was dragged out of her bathroom. Schmitz was accused of underperforming on a contract to teach underprivileged children for which she was to receive $50,000 per annum. Why was a retired social studies teacher suddenly the object of a massive multi-million dollar federal prosecution? Critics say the answer to that question is easy: she is a Democratic member of the state legislature and the Republicans want her seat. At Schmitz’s trial, any discussion of political motive was suppressed by the judge, but the case ended in a hung jury. Martin has promised to retry the case, at a cost of further millions of dollars. Other targets of Martin’s campaign to rid the state of corrupt politicians, which appears to target only Democrats, include Birmingham mayor Larry Langford and State Sen. E.B. McClain. She is reported to be preparing charges against as many as a dozen other Democratic members of the state legislature.

Martin previously coveted an appointment as a federal judge, but her efforts fell flat, largely as a result of mounting questions over her prosecutorial record. With the new administration approaching, she made clear her desire to hold on to her post as U.S. attorney for another year of prosecutions. Her Kafkaesque argument: she is targeting corrupt Democratic politicians and investigating others. Therefore, her removal under these circumstances and replacement by an Obama appointee would be “unseemly.” Martin has enlisted the support of Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, a member of the Judiciary Committee, in her bid to become a holdover. [Martin has been a generous contributor to Sessions' campaings over time.] Alabama Democrats, however, led by Cong. Artur Davis do not cotton to Martin’s scheme. They recently sent the Obama transition team a slate of recommendations, focusing on candidates with strong federal prosecutorial experience and a minimum of political baggage.

I might add that Mary Beth Buchanan has been a major donor to Republican politicians for many years and among the candidates she's given money to are Rick Santorum, of course (once giving more than the legal limit), Arlen Specter, Mark Kennedy, Michael Steele, Conrad Burns, Melissa Hart, Bill Shuster, and George W. Bush, as well as to the Republican National Committee and to a Santorum front group called America's Foundation.

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At 6:55 PM, Blogger Koshem Bos said...

Prosecution should target bigger fish. In the case of the two ladies, just reassign them to DOJ jobs in northern Alaska. They'll leave DOJ not long after that.

At 11:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is America? Well, it's Dubya's America which is on its way out. I hope to see the DOJ clean up the stinking mess of fish left behind.

At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, making employees miserable enough to quit seems to me a no brainer in this case. First one can require competence can't they, even in a lifetime appointment if one wants to get the better jobs.

When you cut off the "head," the body withers.

These ladies might be assertive when the fearless leader is in charge, but they do not have so much back up when the political will is to clean up the department. It is tough to make a case for themselves when the light is shone on the corruption of the past and their roles in it.

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