Friday, December 12, 2008
Blagoyevich-Why was the case terminated?
Cross-posted by Gary Fouse
This week, Rush Limbaugh was speculating on his radio show as to why the investigation into Rod Blagoyevich was brought to a sudden halt by his arrest. Limbaugh raised interesting questions about the decision made by the US Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago). He asked why the wiretap wasn't allowed to continue and identify other corrupt conspirators, specifically those who may have been trying to buy Barack Obama's Senate seat. Limbaugh seemed to be dangling the implication that the case might be getting too close to Barack Obama-the president-elect. While I wouldn't completely discard that possibility (and I am not accusing Obama of anything), I think the possibilities are more complicated.
Having worked as a DEA agent (1973-1995), I was an employee of the Justice Department. Prior to that, I was a US Customs agent in the Treasury Department. However, in both positions, cases that I was involved in at the prosecutorial stage were handled with the US Attorney's Office. Aside from working with federal prosecutors in my posts of duty (Los Angeles and Pittsburgh), I also had occasion to work with US Attorneys offices in numerous other cities like San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Kansas City, San Diego and others-including Chicago. Based on my experience, I can speculate about how this decision may have been made. But I underline the word speculate.
First of all, rest assured that US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald did not act unilaterally in deciding to indict Blagoyevich when he did. Nor did he act unilaterally in his decision to authorize an application for a Title 3 (phone intercept) on the Governor. In sensitive cases involving prominent political figures, the US Attorney's Office must coordinate with Main Justice in Washington. This case, with all its obvious implications, would surely have fit into this category.
There has been a lot of speculation this week about how Obama's Justice Department will handle this matter. What instructions will they give to the US Attorney's Office in Chicago? These are valid and important questions; however, it is the Bush Justice Department that is still in charge here until January 20, 2009.
On the one hand, it would be tempting to think that the Bush Administration and their Justice Department would be eager to nail the Democratic Governor of Illinois and possibly extend the scandal to others, such as Jesse Jackson Jr or even Obama himself. Yet, there is also reason to believe that they would not want to be accused of engaging in a partisan witch hunt. Remember the reluctance of the Bush Administration to delve into Bill Clinton's suspicious deeds, such as the pardons granted in his final days in office. So it's hard to read how the Bush Administration might react to where this case in Illinois was possibly headed.
It is quite probable that the decision to initiate a wiretap on Blogoyevich was based on a tip that the Senate seat was in the process of being sold. It may also be that the decision was made (at the Washington level in coordination with Fitzpatrick) to not allow Blagoyevich to actually complete the deal, which would create a real political crisis in how to deal with a newly-and corruptly-appointed senator. It seems undeniable that allowing the wire to continue a few more days or weeks would have not only further incriminated Blagoyevich (who appears to be sufficiently incriminated to indict), but at least one other prominent politician and his emissaries. Obviously the above two considerations were weighed-both in Chicago and Washington.
Another big consideration was obviously the President-elect. Was the wire starting to incriminate him as well? If not, were the prosecutors afraid that it eventually might? What kind of constitutional crisis would that cause? I should reiterate at this juncture that the tapes-as described in the media-seem to exculpate Obama since he or his people were offering only "appreciation" if their favored candidate got the post.
I would hope that this case does not end with Blagoyevich. There are obviously others involved in a serious case of political corruption-the attempt to sell/buy a Senate seat. I hope Fitzgerald will continue in his position after Obama's inauguration and be allowed to continue the investigation-no matter where it leads. I also hope the Bush Administration gives him a free hand in its final weeks.
It is entirely possible that honorable people in the Justice Department are having to consider "possible damage to the nation" that this case could cause if it goes beyond the Governor of Illinois. I hope that they will put that aside. Real damage to the nation will be if justice is perceived to be corrupt and that some people are above the law. For generations, the public-both in Chicago and the nation chuckled at the tradition of corruption that has existed in that city-and extended to the Statehouse in Springfield. Now it has the possibility to harm the entire nation at a moment we can least afford it. Nevertheless, if this mess does, in fact, go higher than Blagoyevich, it has to be revealed. Our whole political system is starting to catch up with Chicago politics when it comes to corruption. Maybe now, the public will stand up and demand an end to this disturbing trend.
Whoever is involved in this tawdry scheme should be exposed and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.