What a spiritually painful profession to be in, lawyering. It must be, when the practitioners stand back and face the handiwork of their most public, and therefore prominent fellows, namely prosecutors mishandling cases against government figures, and defense counselors who then cry “Foul” as they rub their sweaty mental palms gleefully, knowing that the outcome of their opponents’ malfeasance must be the abandonment of charges against their client. Wherever crimes against people and property are occurring, the legal scavengers will be found making a feast of the piles of carrion produced by the apprehension of those perpetrating them. The relative seriousness of an offense, once it enters the system of “due process”, is of no account.
Examples today include that against former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, and that of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Both cases were brought by the Justice Department under the W. Bush administration, and both demonstrate the sorry truth that, to the extent it is possible for ideologues in the political system to subvert the workings of our legal system, no help for America’s mounting social and economic problems is on the way.
The two cases are most interesting in their juxtaposition to each other, because of the political affiliations that come attached to each. Stevens, a powerful and long-serving Republican, of the state where Sarah Palin can be elected governor running as the candidate of ethical probity, is an influential supporter and friend to arguably the most hogwild powerful administration-without-impunity the Republicans have yet produced, thanks to their record of diligence at trying harder and harder and getting it wronger and wronger for such a very long time.
The other case is the one pursued as a pet project of Karl Rove against a popular Democratic governor in the South, where it would be rightly feared that the days of knee-jerk response of super-patriotic Bible-believers and taxation-loathers to Republican candidates plastering of the “Liberal” label over everyone and everything not in their kit, may be coming at last to a welcome end. Rove broke so many laws against the politicization of the US justice system, from the loyalty-based vetting of US Attorney appointments and the firing of those who withstood it, to the use of the system to attack officials like Siegelman who threatened, by his popularity in a traditional GOP stronghold dating back to Nixon, the “permanent Republican majority” that, in their self-absorbed lunacy he and his ilk see it as a good thing.
There is a conundrum in all this that bears some thought. We Americans have long let ourselves be directed by slogans and soundbites, and one of the older ones has stood the test of time because it well describes the workings of a government system that, for all its faults and failures, has worked reasonably well until recently. It is said that “the wheels of government grind exceedingly slow, but exceedingly fine”. Unfortunately, when the legal machinery of government is hijacked, the result is coarse and unpalatable.
Sen. Ted Stevens took the money and got caught. Compared with him, Rep. George Hansen (Republican, Idaho), the first sitting member of Congress to be jailed for taking the money and getting caught, was a real lightweight. It should have been a slam-dunk, open-and-shut, game-over-zip-up-your-pants (we love you for phrases like this, Stephen King!) prosecution. How could it possibly have been turned around so that this W Bush ally could actually be released back into the wild, to quack “Fowl, fowl” loudly, knowing that only the few thousand of us who are really paying attention would see it for what it is.
I feel, and I believe (though I nor others probably will never be able to prove) that the prosecutors of Ted Stevens blew his prosecution because their political minders expected and demanded it, and this was the only way to bring it off. In other words, The prosecution and the defense were on the same side. In fact, being on the same side, and therefore possibly not the bulbs of most penetrating brilliance on the Republican Tree of Christmas, one imagines there must have been some awkward moments as the prosecutors had to point out to the distaff that, since rules governing evidentiary procedures had been broken, defense would have no choice but to….. (nudge, wink).
The Siegelman Case stinks far worse, because real crimes were committed to bring him down, and he spent a long time (which means something very different to the incarcerated than it does to you, if you haven’t been) behind bars as a result. But don’t take my word for it. As the farmer’s daughter is said to have uttered, “Google it!”