The U.S. Justice system is in trouble, not just the federal system, but the state and local systems as well. A disturbing trend of politically motivated prosecutions has emerged across the country. Congress has the role of oversight, but many Members, themselves former District Attorneys or U.S. Attorneys, seem hesitant to be critical of the Justice Department. It could be for fear of tarnishing their own legacy while they were a prosecutor, or they don’t want to believe a club they belonged to has gone rotten. Either way, Congress must wake up take a hard look at the U.S. justice system from the point of view of someone being falsely accused by a legal behemoth with unlimited resources.
In one of the most egregious examples of the politicization of justice, the Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm launched a succession of John Doe investigations against his Republican enemies. John Doe investigations are special investigations into alleged criminal activity that are conducted in secret. In the investigations, a strict gag order is imposed, and the targets are not allowed to speak about the investigation. It is important to note that a crime doesn’t have to be committed for the investigation to take place, the statute is used to ascertain whether a crime has been committed and, if so, by whom.
The investigations started after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed making Wisconsin a right to work state. The proposal infuriated thousands of union members, including the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s wife, herself a teacher’s union shop steward, conflict of interest anyone. The investigations would take years and include pre-dawn paramilitary raids of volunteers and donors of Walker. Because these were John Doe investigations, the people could not tell their neighbors what the raids were about.
While the victims of the inquisitions could not speak up, that didn’t stop leaks sprouting from the investigators. In 2016, TheGuardian.com published documents from the “secret” documents. An investigation was finally launched by State Attorney General Brad Schimel. Last week, Schimel released a stunning 91-page report recommending contempt proceedings for a prosecutor and eight officials. Just one of the egregious examples of misconduct found personal emails of subjects in folders marked “opposition research.” How is anyone in Wisconsin supposed to trust state justice officials if they use law enforcement for political purposes?
Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry was a victim of the politicization of justice also. When Perry was governor of Texas in 2013, he vetoed state funding for the Public Accountability Office. The agency was overseen by the Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, herself involved in a drunk driving incident. The governor was asking Lehmberg to step down, for obvious reasons. It would be hard for the people of Texas to trust the Public Accountability Office when the people running it have drunk driving problems.
DA Lehmberg refused to step down accusing the governor of abuse of power. The battle would lead to an ethics complaint filed by a non-profit ally of Lehmberg, leading to a special prosecutor. The case would make national headlines and force Perry to spend time and money defending himself. The case would eventually be thrown out, but not after the negative publicity from the case damaged Perry’s run for President.
The misconduct is not limited to state and local district attorneys; the federal justice system is also rife with bad behavior. The late Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was the target of such an unjust attack.
In 2008, 100 days before the elections, Department of Justice prosecutors indicted the Alaskan Senator on seven counts of making false statements related to gift giving. Stevens would ask for a speedy trial and be granted one. In October of 2008, Stevens was found guilty of seven counts of making false statements.
The story doesn’t end there. In February 2009 a whistleblower came forward with damning claims of prosecutorial misconduct. One of the FBI agents involved in the case had an inappropriate relationship with the prosecution’s star witness Bill Allen. To further complicate matters, the whistleblower alleged Allen also gave gifts to FBI agents and even helped a family member of an FBI agent get a job. The prosecutors withheld exculpatory material from the defense, including witness statements that refuted the prosecution’s case.
A few weeks after the whistleblower came forward, the judge in the case would hold the prosecutors in contempt calling the conduct outrageous. Six weeks later the Justice Department would submit a motion to set aside the verdict and dismiss the indictment with prejudice. At the same time the Department launched an investigation that lasted three years, concluding with a 525 page report stating, “The investigation and prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens were permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness.”
Sidney Powell, a former federal prosecutor, authored the book Licensed to Lie in 2015, detailing prosecutorial misconduct in dozens of federal cases. A quick glance at the Robert Mueller-led Special Counsel investigation into the 2016 election, with the multiple conflicts of interest and stonewalling of Congress, scream for another chapter in the book. Congress and Attorney General Jeff Sessions must put their personal feelings aside, and identify rot in the system when they see it regardless if it’s coming from the federal, state, or local officials. People are losing faith in the Justice System and actions must be taken to restore it before it is too late.