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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Alice Martin's Political Campaign Unveiled

U.S. Attorney Alice Martin has lined up 10 indictments of prominent Democrats, or figures close to Democrats, as part of an effort to help Republicans gain control of the Alabama Legislature by 2010.

That is the most stunning news in two critically important posts this weekend from Scott Horton, of Harper's.org.

In the first of the two posts, Horton reports that Martin plans to release her indictments in a "drip-by-drip" fashion in order to provide maximum benefit for her Republican allies. The indictment of Alabama Rep. Sue Schmitz (D-Toney), for example, was released so as to draw attention away from a historic victory by African American James Fields in a special election for a seat representing overwhelmingly white Cullman County in the state legislature.

Horton notes that Alabama Republicans might have a number of concerns on the highly-charged racial front. Horton predicts that Barack Obama will prevail in Tuesday's Alabama Democratic primary, and he notes that U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, a black former prosecutor and an Obama supporter, is emerging as the leader of Alabama Democrats.

So what to make of Alice Martin? U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has promised that any prosecutor caught using his or her office for political manipulation would be immediately fired. Martin, who has been the subject of a perjury investigation for some time now, is still ensconced in Birmingham.

A recently retired Justice Department figure has told Horton that the department is "mortified" at the actions of Martin and her compadre Leura Canary in Montgomery. Mukasey, however, does not want to look into it.

He might not have a choice though, with an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee looming in the distance. Horton reports that chairman John Conyers has indicated that he plans to make the Don Siegelman case in Alabama a key subject in the inquiry.

In his second key post of the weekend, Horton says the investigation into Justice Department wrongdoing under Alberto Gonzalez could lead to consideration of impeachment proceedings against President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

How could this play out? Horton notes that it could start with the conclusion of the Justice Department's internal investigation, by the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility, into the firing of eight U.S. attorneys in December 2006. This investigation must stay within the boundaries of the DOJ, so it will not directly implicate Bush, Cheney, or Karl Rove. But Horton expects the report to look very bad for Gonzalez.

The key question is: Were the U.S. attorneys fired for an "improper reason." And Horton says corruptly influencing a criminal investigation would violate the legal standard under federal law. The David Iglesias case in New Mexico might be the most likely to present a clearly "improper reason" for a firing.

This, Horton reports, could lead to a finding that Gonzalez failed to apprise Bush, Cheney, and Rove that their meddling in criminal investigations constituted a federal crime.

At this point, it would be up to the House Judiciary Committee to scrutinize the activities of the White House. It is well settled under federal law that manipulating a criminal investigation for political benefit amounts to "corrupt influencing." This, Horton reports, is a felony. And under the language of the Constitution would be a "high crime and misdemeanor" required for impeachment.

Horton says this scenario creates a question that is being examined like never before in Washington: How do we handle the supervision of misbehaving prosecutors? What do we do when those who are supposed to be in charge of initiating criminal investigations are themselves behaving in criminal ways?

Under Horton's scenario, this could start as a general inquiry and turn into a question of impeachment. And that is where Congress holds the aces if the White House continues to invoke its executive-privilege defense. This defense would fail in an impeachment investigation, Horton says, because such an inquiry is outside the separation-of-powers framework.

The weeks and months ahead figure to be very interesting for justice-related issues in the United States--and it will come in the midst of a presidential election. If efforts to unmask the corrupt Bush Justice Department gain serious traction, it seems likely that Alabama will be front and center.

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