The Justice Department this week resumed its massive New Jersey political corruption “Bid Rig III” case with a trial that continues the self-inflicted damage from its 2006 political purge of U.S. attorneys.
The bribery trial of former state assemblyman Harvey Smith in Newark continues the DOJ’s disgraceful 46-defendant sting that New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, right, concocted years ago in consultation with the Bush DOJ headquarters.
These actions helped Christie win his state’s governorship last year with the public image of being a crime-fighting, cost-conscious reformer. Similarly, he’s now positioning himself as a contender for the presidency in 2012.
But a review of the Bid Rig case illustrates the bipartisan way that Christie and other DOJ officials waste vast sums to help their cronies and themselves, and then cover-up for each other. For these reasons, the Bid Rig case helps show why President Obama shouldn’t have decided that his administration would “need to look forward, as opposed to looking backwards” on potential prosecution of the gravest Bush-era crimes. All criminal cases look “backward.”
Obama, Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, left, and the rest of their team have made a mockery of justice to exempt law enforcement from the tough review they routinely impose on others, as I argued at the beginning of his presidency in, “Probe the Past To Protect the Future.”
Let’s examine the Bid Rig probe and the concept of loyalty. Christie, a Republican, held his federal prosecution post from 2002 until resigning in 2008 as the Bush presidency expired. Somehow, he survived the unprecedented Bush mid-term political purge in 2006 when DOJ fired nine of Christie’s 93 peers nationwide. The Bush administration originally placed him on its purge list as it sought to ensure that those holding the top prosecution posts were what it called “loyal Bushies.”
Christie went on to prove his loyalty to the GOP hierarchy, as our Justice Integrity Project (JIP) documented earlier this week in a story published here on the Daily Censored, “Feds Drop Scandal-Prone Star Witness in Politicized NJ Witch-Hunt.”
As one way, Christie gave no-bid DOJ contracts worth millions of dollars to Republican former DOJ leaders, including one worth up to $50 million to former U.S. Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft, left.
Also, Christie initiated the Bid Rig sting that relied heavily on con man Solomon Dwek to inveigle targeted politicians, rabbis and others into indictable crimes. Six months after Christie left office, his DOJ successors obtained a Bid Rig indictment of Smith, 61, on charges of taking $15,000 in bribes early last year when Smith was one of multiple Democratic candidates for mayor in Jersey City.
The DOJ funded Dwek with hundreds of thousands of dollars to help obtain indictments, with almost all of the political indictments against Democrats of relatively small stature and from urban counties. Dwek, son of a rabbi, has also earned five-figure monthly living expenses of up to $12,000 per month by helping prosecutors win convictions, primarily by guilty pleas.
With scant public exposure about the details of the case aside from the indictments and several embarrassing disclosures on such matters as Christie’s $46,000 loan to his former DOJ aide Michele Brown, she and others in the office helped orchestrate the Bid Rig indictments in ways that boosted Christie’s image in his 2009 gubernatorial campaign.
Upon election, Christie gave jobs to Brown and his other top-ranking former DOJ colleague as well as to at least eight others formerly under his command at the New Jersey DOJ office.
But the DOJ has just dropped Dwek from its witness list against Smith, doubtless because of fear of cross-examination. As our non-partisan Justice Integrity Project reported earlier this week here on the Daily Censored, Dwek’s credibility has been undermined by his admissions of a $50 million bank fraud, his ownership of Caribbean cruise ship floating brothel, and his subsequent coddling by prosecutors.
Revelations of Dwek’s record helped a Ridgefield mayor win acquittal Oct. 27 in the most recent Big Rig trial. The public learned at that trial for the first time that Dwek had cheated victims of his bank fraud even after he became a government informant. Also, Dwek revealed that he had destroyed his secretary’s credit rating by bilking her in her house sale as he masterminded a $400 million Ponzi scheme from his base among fellow Republicans in New Jersey’s Monmouth County.
Undeterred, prosecutors are moving forward vigorously against Smith this week with non-Dwek witnesses offered leniency. Thus, the Jersey Journal reported, “Tapes show ex-Jersey City assemblyman offering to contact state agencies for developer.” Another Jersey Journal story Dec. 3 illustrates the grayish distinctions between a legal $5,000 campaign “donation” from a developer and an illegal “bribe.”
Even a reader not in court can note that the government’s own witness testified the defendant Smith said he couldn’t guarantee favorable action and wanted money from Dwek in checks for reporting purposes.
True, it’s still early in the trial. But the testimony so far underscores at the minimum why it’s so important not simply for the DOJ’s image but for the integrity of our local elections that prosecutors undertake such investigations without the stench of self-dealing and reliance on deal-making with major criminals to create crime against designated political targets.
By now, both the New Jersey and Washington DOJ are headed by Democrats. The conventional wisdom in political, legal and other civic circles is that changes from a presidential election protect the public from political unfairness. Instead, JIP’s research shows that institutional loyalties, back-scratching and career opportunities often trump conventional checks-and-balances when it comes to truly sensitive matters. A close look shows that Justice Department leadership truly protects own, with what is by now clear the full blessing of the president himself.
In recent months, JIP has reported that both of DOJ’s major internal investigations (the 2006 political purges and destruction of CIA torture tapes) have ended in whitewashes.
As we close out the week, Huffington Post is headlining, “Obama Issues First Pardons Of His Presidency.”
But instead of meaningful action from the president, its stellar reporter Dan Froomkin tell us the headline simply means, “President Obama, who had gone nearly 700 days without using his clemency power, finally issued nine pardons on Friday afternoon to a very minor rogue's gallery of small-time felons who long ago did their time, if they did any at all.”
Obama sent his attorney general this week on a junket to Europe to lobby for World Cup soccer games for the United States in 2022. It’s long been obvious, but it's now worth saying again, again and again if need be: They really don’t care about what they’re supposed to be doing, do they?
Appendix of Recent News Links:
Jersey Journal/NJ.com, Tapes show ex-Jersey City assemblyman offering to contact state agencies for developer, Melissa Hayes, Dec. 2, 2010. Sitting in the Jersey City Diner, former Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith flips over a paper placemat and begins taking notes. He’s meeting with Edward Cheatam, who served as his deputy mayor when he was appointed interim mayor following Glenn D. Cunningham’s death, Jersey City political consultant Jack Shaw and a man he believes to be David Esenbach, a purported developer. Esenbach is actually Solomon Dwek, a government informant who secretly recorded meetings with public officials.
Jersey Journal/NJ.com, Tapes show middle man giving ex-Jersey City assemblyman Fed-Ex envelope in corruption trial, Melissa Hayes, Dec. 2, 2010. In the parking lot of the Malibu Diner in Hoboken, Edward Cheatam takes a Fed-Ex envelope containing $10,000 in cash, reaches through former Jersey City Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith’s car window and hands it to him and Smith drives off.
Star-Ledger/ NJ.com, Government unveils key witness in corruption trial of ex-Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, Ted Sherman, Dec. 1, 2010. The evidence included notes quickly scribbled on the back of a mustard-stained restaurant placemat, and the now-familiar black-and-white surveillance videos shot from a hidden camera in a cheap diner. But as the federal corruption trail of former Democratic Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith got underway in federal court in Newark today, something was missing.
Jersey Journal/NJ.com, Former Jersey City official testifies he introduced ex-Assemblyman Harvey Smith to government informant, Melissa Hayes, Dec.1, 2010. Former Jersey City Housing Authority Commissioner Edward Cheatam admits that he struck and agreement with who he thought was a corrupt developer to make introductions with local political figures in exchange for cash. Cheatam, who is testifying in the federal corruption trial of former Jersey City Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, had no idea that developer was actually Solomon Dwek, a government informant who wore a wire. Smith is on trial, accused of accepting $15,000 in bribes from Dwek in exchange for his official assistance.