Political Cases Highlight Hidden DOJ Incentives

On March 24, we examined developments this week in two of the Justice Department’s major white-collar crime prosecutions of the past decade. In the cases, the DOJ years ago secured bribery convictions against the prominent Mississippi trial attorney Paul Minor and insider trading convictions against former Qwest Communications CEO Joseph Nacchio. Minor and Nacchio are imprisoned under long terms, but are now seeking redress in various ways.

Today, we’ll review the ripple effect of such prosecutions on regional politics and personal privacy. Additionally, we’ll explore how these high-profile cases hold lessons for the always-difficult key issue for a client: Will a defense lawyer use expertise and connections to fight all-out? Or will problems arise from a lawyer’s almost inevitable incentives to foster fees and good relationships with the Justice Department, judiciary and others who can help maintain good standing for future cases?

The politics of our justice system often leads high-profile defendants to woo politically connected defense attorneys even though our system ostensibly is non-partisan. One example is Minor, who became his state’s leading donor to Democrats after a controversial and highly successful career as a torts attorney suing powerful companies. For his appellate work, he was able to recruit former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, one of the nation’s most prominent appellate experts and Republican insiders. Olson was a key figure in creating the Federalist Society to reshape the nation’s judiciary and bar in more conservative directions, and more recently was appointed by President Obama to join the Council of the Administrative Conference of the United States, a public-private partnership charged with providing nonpartisan, practical assessments and recommendations to improve agency procedures and operations. Olson’s team from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher includes David Debold, who argued Monday to U. S. District Judge Henry Wingate in Jackson, MS that Minor’s convictions must be vacated.

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Bush-Era Mississippi, Qwest Cases Still Make News

Two significant federal political prosecutions from the last decade are still making news this week.

In Mississippi, U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate again postponed resentencing of the imprisoned trial attorney and Democratic fund-raiser Paul Minor, whose prosecution on corruption charges in 2003 helped Republican Haley Barbour, below left, win the state’s governorship.

Haley BarbourIn New Jersey, imprisoned former Qwest Communications CEO Joseph Nacchio sued his politically well-connected former lawyer, Herbert Stern, on grounds of ineffective legal work during Nacchio’s prosecution on insider trading charges – despite Stern’s $25 million in legal fees.

The Justice Integrity Project has tracked both their cases after researching evidence that the Bush Justice Department targeted them both improperly for political reasons.

The reasons? Minor was a highly successful plaintiffs attorney in torts cases against corporations, and also the leading donor to Democrats in Mississippi, including judges who seek donations in a system of elections. Democrats were vigorously contending a decade ago for state and local offices. But years of news reports about charges arising from loans and donations such as his, categorized as bribes by authorities, helped Republicans win state and local offices.

Regarding Nacchio, he was the only one of the nation’s top telecom CEOs in 2001 to decline Bush administration requests to provide customer records without guarantees of legal compliance for widespread federal surveillance. Nacchio regarded the secret federal requests as violating wiretapping law and company policy. At the time, his company's stock price had also slipped badly during the so-called telecom "tech wreck" of 2000-2001 affecting many companies. He sold personal stock holdings during that period, making him vulnerable to an aggressive political prosecution.

Years previous, the nation’s insider trading laws were enacted with vague language, as author Harvey Silverglate has demonstrated in his important 2009 book, Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. Vague law permits authorities to make new law, in effect, by selecting particular targets for enforcement in a process that is often too complicated for many to understand.

As a result, authorities pillory some and largely ignore others for similar conduct, as Silverglate and other critics have shown..

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Book ‘Jersey Sting’ On Christie Probes Raises Questions

By Andrew Kreig / Director's Blog

The Jersey Sting is a new book about a major federal corruption case that helped former New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie win his state’s governorship in 2009.

Readers here know that our Justice Integrity Project has documented in multiple columns the unfairness of the controversial 46-defendant case initiated by the Republican Christie. Prosecutions, primarily resulting in guilty pleas but also including an unusually high number of acquittals or pre-trial rulings adverse to the government, have continued vigorously under Christie's successors in an office now led by the Democratic-nominated U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

Authors Ted Sherman and Josh Margolin are investigative reporters who long worked the Star-Ledger, the state’s largest daily newspaper. St. Martin’s Press, which published the book this month, says, “The Jersey Sting takes you deep inside a one-of-a-kind case, through a narrative fashioned from scores of interviews — both on and off the record — and from thousands of pages of documents, criminal complaints, transcripts of federal wiretaps, court records, and sworn depositions.”  Book excerpts set the scene, as follows:

On a warm day that would turn overcast with scattered rain, climbing to near 80 degrees in the summer humidity, more than 300 FBI and other federal agents were in position across the metropolitan area well before the crack of dawn. Deployed from Brooklyn and Jersey City to the wealthy beachfront enclave of Deal along the Jersey Shore, it was an invasion force about to execute a coordinated assault of military-style precision, a takedown that would shatter New Jersey’s political landscape and reach all the way into the governor’s office, while tearing apart an insular Orthodox religious community that had long shunned outsiders.

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Gutsy Reporters Probe DC, Nebraska Pedophilia Claims

By Andrew Kreig / Director’s Blog

Washington, DC-based broadcaster Wayne Madsen hosted fellow author Nick Bryant March 20 for a rare public discussion of reports of pedophilia involving prominent Washington officials and media celebrities. The two longtime investigative reporters agreed that those who try to expose such crimes among the powerful can expect major career setbacks, with early death a distinct possibility. In the audio interview posted on the Wayne Madsen Report (a subscription-only site), they agreed also that those involved in cover-ups, by contrast, often prosper in their careers because of the power of perpetrators, including lucrative blackmail opportunities.

Bryant, whose specialties include reports on abused children, spent seven years researching The Franklin Scandal: A Story of Powerbrokers, Child Abuse and Betrayal. The publisher TrineDay synopsizes the 650-page book (including index) as “the true story of a child-pandering network and the masking of its very existence through a massive cover-up orchestrated from the utmost pinnacle of power – using the CIA, FBI, Secret Service and a corrupt judicial process.” The book’s theme is that the ring was based in Nebraska, and drew both boys and girls from Boys Town and other homes for foster or troubled children.

From interviews and court documents involving participants, the book describes how children were shipped to wealthy pedophiles for sex and drug “parties” in Omaha, Washington, Hollywood, Las Vegas and elsewhere around the nation. Initial reports two decades ago created a scandal in Nebraska and Washington.

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GOP Empowers Lobbyists, Sleuths; Security Update

By Andrew Kreig / Director's Blog

The Republican House leadership is moving vigorously on separate fronts to hire lobbyists to staff congressional offices and to investigate Democratic wrongdoing. The separate initiatives are underscored in two Washington Post news stories published March 18. One is Lobbyists flock to Capitol Hill jobs. The other is: Sulaimon Brown’s allegations prompt House oversight committee probe into Vincent Gray campaign. The latter probe is being led by the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, left, a Republican from California's 49th District just north of San Diego who announced last summer that he was gearing up for a series of hard-hitting investigations if Republicans prevailed in November. Meanwhile, Democrats under then-Chairman Edolphus Towns of Brooklyn, NY were doing little to probe rampant abuses that have been festering for years in government.

Meanwhile, embattled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange confronted the prime minister of his native Australia in a surprise television question-and-answer format enabled by remote  technology from the United Kingdom, where Assange is being held without bond pending an extradition hearing to Sweden. These and other news reports collected below from alternative news sources illustrate the continuing mystery and drama of his case.

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Conyers Calls for Liberal Agenda, Skirts Justice Issues

Longtime Michigan congressman John Conyers, Jr. held a press conference March 14 in the nation's capital seeking a more progressive congressional agenda. But he opened himself to criticism that he didn’t do enough to fight injustice during his just-ended four-year term as House Judiciary Committee chairman.

The Democrat from Detroit called at the National Press Club for increased gun control, more spending on jobs creation as well as evolution of the Obama health care program into a “single-payer” health care law providing universal coverage. In doing so, he made clear that he hoped to nudge President Obama to the left on such policies.

On behalf of the Justice Integrity Project, I asked Conyers why he didn’t push the Obama administration harder on civil liberties issues, such as the lack of redress for victims of political prosecutions around the nation and for whistleblowers who are being prosecuted far more under Obama than Bush. Conyers, portrayed above by photographer Rodrigo Valderrama, asked for amplification of what I meant.

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