Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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Bob Ney Sentenced to 30 Months

| Fri Jan. 19, 2007 11:52 AM EST

The AP reports that Bob Ney, the former Ohio congressman who pled guilty on corruption charges stemming from the Abramoff scandal, will spend the next two-and-a-half years at a federal prison in Morgantown, West Virginia. Apparently, the sentence was even harsher than prosecutors had originally recommended. Explaining her reasoning to Ney, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle said, "Both your constituents and the public trusted you to represent them honestly."

The Mysterious Case of the Federal Prosecutor Firings

| Thu Jan. 18, 2007 1:17 PM EST

Josh Marshall weighs in today with an interesting column in The Hill about the rash of federal prosecutors who have apparently been forced out by the Bush administration in recent weeks. Among the latest to go is San Diego US Attorney Carol Lam, whose office prosecuted the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery case and who announced her resignation on Tuesday. "The current work of the other fired USAs has less direct political implications," Marshall writes. "But several seem to have had ongoing investigations of allegedly corrupt Republicans."

While the motivation behind the firings remains a mystery, a look at the people who are being appointed to fill the vacancies is instructive.

Consider the estimable J. Timothy Griffin, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas since Dec. 20 of last year.

If you hadn't heard about Griffin's appointment, don't feel bad; the guy he replaced hadn't either. Griffin's appointment was announced Dec. 15, before the then-U.S. attorney Bud Cummins had even been given a chance to resign. Cummins got the call on his cell phone telling him he was out the same day the announcement was made. He was out hiking with his son at the time....

A quick perusal of Griffin's resume shows that his more-or-less exclusive vocation has been doing opposition research on Democrats on behalf of the Republican Party. Until recently, he was head of oppo research at the White House, working directly for Karl Rove. In 1999 and 2000, he was deputy research director for the Republican National Committee. In 2002 he returned as research director for the national GOP and stayed on for the next three years.

Before getting involved formally in oppo research he worked in what you might call de facto oppo research positions. In 1995 and 1996 he was associate independent counsel in the Henry Cisneros investigation. And after that he headed up to the Hill to work for Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) investigating political contributions from Asian-Americans to Bill Clinton.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, according to Time, back in 2000, when he was in charge of digging up dirt on Al Gore, he apparently had a poster hanging on the wall behind his desk which read: "On my command — unleash hell on Al."

Plame Case: Fitzgerald is Getting Nifonged

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 5:32 PM EST

What do Patrick Fitzgerald and Mike Nifong share in common? Not much, beyond the fact that both are prosecutors who have pursued politically fraught cases. But don't tell that to Investor's Business Daily, which published an editorial today calling for "all the rogue prosecutors" to be reigned in. The paper's prime examples of prosecutorial zealotry are Nifong, who recused himself last week from the Duke sexual assault case, and Fitzgerald, whose perjury and obstruction of justice case against Lewis "Scooter" Libby began in D.C. district court on Tuesday. "Like the Duke lacrosse players, Scooter Libby faces jail for alleged involvement in a crime that was never committed, pursued by a vindictive prosecutor," the editorial reasons. "And also like the Duke case, it's a national disgrace."

In lumping Fitzgerald with Nifong, whose case against the Duke lacrosse players appears at best deeply flawed and potentially politically motivated, Investor's Business Daily is only the latest to deploy this disingenuous bait and switch. Making a similar argument in an op-ed last summer, columnist Jack Kelly cast the Plame and Duke cases as part of the same cautionary tale. "This should remind us the greater threat to our civil liberties comes not from the measures the Bush administration has taken to protect us from terrorists, but from prosecutors who abuse their power for political purposes." More recently the columnist posed this question to his readers: "Is to 'fitzgerald' a synonym for to 'nifong?'"

Perhaps it is, if you base your facts on the Plame leak case on the same, well worn set of conservative talking points used over and over to portray Libby as a victim of liberal activism.  nifong_fitzgerald.jpg As the argument goes, since the charges against Libby derive from Fitzgerald's investigation of a question he was ultimately unable to settle – whether the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative constituted a breach of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act – they should never have been filed in the first place. As Investor's Business Daily put it, "Like District Attorney Michael Nifong in the Duke case, Fitzgerald knew early that he had no real crime and no real criminal. But he had to come up with something. So he charged with lying someone who in his job got hundreds of phone calls every day and talked to dozens of reporters because his memory of earlier conversations differed with those reporters' notes." (It's worth noting that Libby's defense attorneys are likely to make a similar argument.) For those who adhere to this view, the revelation last fall that former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, known as a critic of the Iraq war, was Robert Novak's initial source for his column outing Plame, was icing on the cake, providing further evidence that the leak of her covert status was not the act of political retribution administration critics claimed it to be. Case closed.

Of course, if government officials were to believe there are no penalties for lying to a grand jury or impeding a federal investigation, they would have little impetus to do anything but obfuscate. (In terms of Libby, the courts certainly seem to regard his alleged crimes as serious enough. If convicted on all five counts, he could be fined up to $1.25 million and sentenced to 30 years in prison.) As for Armitage, while he reportedly revealed Plame's identity inadvertently, that doesn't preclude the possibility that a separate, malicious effort was underway within the Office of the Vice President to discredit Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, for debunking the administration's claims about Iraq's efforts to obtain yellowcake uranium. The Libby trial, however, will not center on the motivations behind the leak, but on whether Libby lied about his role in it.

As far as the Fitzgerald-Nifong comparisons go, that's just the latest salvo in a partisan mud-slinging campaign that has been part of the Plame case since the beginning. But none of that matters at this point. The only question now is whether Fitzgerald has a case against Libby -- and that's in the hands of a jury to decide.

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