As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Spitzer and Bush League Justice

Without attempting to defend Eliot Spitzer in any way, it's unquestionable that the questions over the monitoring of his conduct and the speed with which the story went public remain unquestioned.

ABCis reporting that Eliot Spitzer came under the attention of the Feds because his bank reported "suspicious money transfers" to the IRS. The Justice Department brought it to the FBI's Public Corruption Squad, who looked into it and found that payments were made to a company called QET, which did business as The Emperor's Club.

All kinds of questions arise here:

1. Why would the bank tell the IRS and not Spitzer himself if there was a suspicious transfer? Spitzer is a longtime client, a rich guy and the governor. We're talking thousands of dollars here, not millions. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense that they spotted a "suspicious transfer" made by the governor, and that this is how things began. It's possible it was just ordinary paperwork the bank had to file with the government whenever some particular flag was raised, but if that's the case, why did the DoJ go to DefCon 3?

2. What is a USA doing prosecuting a prostitution case? This isn't normally what the feds spend their time with.

3. Mike Garcia (the USA for Southern New York) is a Chertoff crony. Sources familiar with the investigation say that he sent a prosecution memo to DC two months ago asking for authority to indict a public figure (Spitzer). Which means they had their case made long before the wire tap of February 13. Why did they then include this line from that conversation in the complaint?

LEWIS continued that from what she had been told "he" (believed to be a reference to Client-9) "would ask you to do things that, like, you might not think were safe -- you know -- I mean that...very basic things...."Kristen" responded: "I have a way of dealing with that...I'd be like listen dude, you really want the sex?...You know what I mean."

This salacious detail does not seem like it's necessary to make their case, and appears to be added for no other purpose than to destroy Spitzer's career.

4. How did Spitzer's name get leaked to the media, and who did it? Didn't happen to Dave Vitter.

The only way #1 can be credibly answered if there were multiple bank transfers that fell slightly under the $10,000 limit required to trigger federal reporting. If this was a one-off deal then there's no way that gets noticed unless someone at DoJ or the US Attorney's office is combing through the records. I don't think we have that information yet. Numerous transactions would raise a red flag, to be sure.

The political partisanship which has infected the Justice Department has really poisoned the system of justice in general. While there's no question that Spitzer committed a crime here (regardless of what you think of that crime and whether or not it should be prosecuted; for the records, johns rarely are convicted), the way in which they drew him into the case is suspicious. And if the transfers tipped the feds off to the whole prostitution ring, then this notion that Democratic governors are held to a different standard in this Justice Department, and are subject to intense scrutiny and wiretapping and all the rest, stands.

Scott Horton, who's been following the Siegelman prosecution (a different case, as he was railroaded and committed no crime), writes:

Note that this prosecution was managed with staffers from the Public Integrity Section at the Department of Justice. This section is now at the center of a major scandal concerning politically directed prosecutions. During the Bush Administration, his Justice Department has opened 5.6 cases against Democrats for every one involving a Republican. Beyond this, a number of the cases seem to have been tied closely to election cycles. Indeed, a study of the cases out of Alabama shows clearly that even cases opened against Republicans are in fact only part of a broader pattern of going after Democrats. So here are the rather amazing facts that surface in the Spitzer case:

(1) The prosecutors handling the case came from the Public Integrity Section.

(2) The prosecution is opened under the White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910. You read that correctly. The statute itself is highly disreputable, and most of the high-profile cases brought under it were politically motivated and grossly abusive [...]

(3) The resources dedicated to the case in terms of prosecutors and investigators are extraordinary.

(4) How the investigation got started. The Justice Department has yet to give a full account of why they were looking into Spitzer’s payments, and indeed the suggestion in the ABC account is that it didn’t have anything to do with a prostitution ring. The suggestion that this was driven by an IRS inquiry and involved a bank might heighten, rather than allay, concerns of a politically motivated prosecution.

There is simply no reason to trust the Bush Justice Department. Remaining Democratic governors need to conduct themselves far more cleanly than Spitzer, to be sure. But there is unquestionably a different standard. Remember that Karl Rove and other Republicans have relentlessly named "corruption" as the reason they lost Congress in 2006. They didn't do that by accident. If they can find a few spare Democrats to point to for 2008 they can say that the pendulum has swung back, that those in power now are abusing it, and that Democrats are hopelessly corrupt and cannot be trusted. Not sure if it'll work, but they can claim "balance" for Mark Foley and Dave Vitter and Larry Craig. If I were a Democrat I wouldn't even leave the house at night from now until the election.

UPDATE: On the other hand, it could have been a routine investigation into financial improprieties triggered in a perfectly reasonable way. But the well of justice is poisoned by consistent partisanship.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,