|Michael Mukasey at GOP Convention|
Despite its tedium and general lack of news value, the RNC did produce one extremely important story. In fact, I would argue that it illuminates one of the two most important issues mankind faces -- (1) Global climate change (see recent story with headline "Hottest ever June marks 14th month of record-breaking temperatures."); and (2) The collapse of the U.S. justice system.
Republicans, of course, aren't about to touch climate change. But one of their speakers, his words largely unreported or ignored, did inadvertently provide overwhelming evidence of our justice system's decay. In fact, Michael Mukasey, a former attorney general under George W. Bush, more or less stated (when taken in light of his past actions) that he believes in prosecuting people for political reasons, especially if that person's name is Hillary Clinton. (See video of full speech at the end of this post.)
The main point behind Mukasey's convention speech was to trash Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, and whine about the Justice Department's recent decision not to prosecute her for using a private e-mail server while acting as U.S. Secretary of State -- the same thing Republican secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice had done.
The gist of Mukasey's harangue can be summed up from this report at Politico, which holds the appropriate headline "Mukasey slams Clinton on email, but blocked classified leak probe in 2008." From reporter Josh Gerstein:
Ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey used his Republican National Convention speaking slot Tuesday night to blast Hillary Clinton over her carelessness with classified information, but Mukasey helped throw a major roadblock in the path of an investigation into improper leaking of such information less than a decade ago.
"How she treated government secrets as secretary of state, and what she said before and after she was caught, sums up the case against her," Mukasey declared in Cleveland Tuesday. "Hillary Clinton is asking us, as Americans, to make her the first president to take the oath of office after already violating that oath."
Gerstein actually is letting Mukasey off easy with that passage. The nation's former "top cop" oversaw not one, but two, botched investigations that reeked of dishonesty and political machinations. Let's take a brief look at both:
The Outing of Valerie Plame
This is the focus of Gerstein's article, and it's likely the few people who saw Mukasey's speech at the RNC forgot he once helped engineer a cover-up in the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame. How bad was it, how much disregard for the truth did Mukasey display? Gerstein reminds us:
When confronted with a congressional request for details about the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity during President George W. Bush's administration, Mukasey persuaded Bush to invoke executive privilege to keep key evidence from a House committee investigating the episode.
Mukasey's face-off with Congress followed the conclusion of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's criminal investigation into how Plame's identity as a CIA officer went public. Fitzgerald prosecuted no one for the leak, but charged Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Scooter Libby with perjury, making false statements to investigators and obstruction of justice over his statements during the probe.
A jury convicted Libby on four of the five counts against him and he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Mukasey's scheming continued after the Libby trial. Writes Gerstein:
While panel Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and ranking member Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) insisted they needed that information to assess how classified information was or was not safeguarded, Mukasey insisted that concerns about the confidentiality of presidential advice and about future Justice Department investigations should take priority over the congressional inquiry, at least with respect to some information.
"The Committee insists that the Department provide it with unredacted copies of all of the subpoenaed documents except your interview report. In my view, such a production would chill deliberations among future White House officials and impede future Department of Justice criminal investigations involving official White House conduct," Mukasey wrote to Bush on July 15, 2008. "Accordingly ... it is my considered legal judgment that it would be legally permissible for you to assert executive privilege with respect to the subpoenaed documents, and I respectfully request that you do so."
In a report responding to the executive privilege invocation, Waxman and Davis called Mukasey's advice on the topic "flawed." The lawmakers said the action frustrated the panel's effort to determine "whether senior White House officials complied with requirements governing the handling of classified information" - a quite similar focus to the charges Mukasey and other Republicans have leveled at Clinton. . . .
It was eventually shown that the first leak of Plame's identity came not from any White House official, but Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who was at odds with the White House on many issues. Neither he nor anyone else was ever charged with the leak.
In the face of a serious crime, the outing of a CIA officer, Mukasey took steps to ensure that no Republican was held accountable.
Protecting Karl Rove, and others, in the firing of U.S. attorneys
During the Bush II era, nine U.S. attorneys were fired, apparently for refusing to bring trumped-up charges against Democrats. Mukasey appointed career federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy to investigate, and she produced what one legal analyst called a "whitewash."
The Dannehy appointment was dubious from the outset, given her ties to a case where an appeals court found prosecutors had suppressed evidence. Here's how Andrew Kreig describe it, writing at the Nieman Watchdog Web site:
In September 2008, the Bush Justice Department appointed career federal prosecutor Nora Dannehy to investigate allegations that Bush officials in 2006 illegally fired nine U.S. attorneys who wouldn’t politicize official corruption investigations.
But just four days before her appointment, a federal appeals court had ruled that a team of prosecutors led by Dannehy illegally suppressed evidence in a major political corruption case in Connecticut. The prosecutors’ misconduct was so serious that the court vacated seven of the eight convictions in the case.
The ruling didn’t cite Dannehy by name, and although it was publicly reported it apparently never came up in the news coverage of her appointment.
But it now calls into question the integrity of her investigation by raising serious concerns about her credibility -- and about whether she was particularly vulnerable to political pressure from within the Justice Department.
Was Dannehy compromised to the point that she became a political tool? Kreig suggests the answer is yes:
Now, almost two years later (in 2010), Dannehy has provided arguably the most important blanket exoneration for high-level U.S. criminal targets since President George H.W. Bush pardoned six Iran-Contra convicts post-election in late 1992.
The DOJ announced on July 21 that it has “closed the case” on the nine unprecedented mid-term firings because Dannehy found no criminal wrongdoing by DOJ or White House officials.
But the official description of her inquiry indicates that she either placed or acceded to constraints on the scope of her probe that restricted it to the firing of just one of the ousted U.S. attorneys, not the others -- and not to the conduct of the U.S. attorneys who weren't ousted because they met whatever tests DOJ and the White House created.
Yes, you read that right: Of the nine U.S. attorneys fired, Dannehy examined one case, that of David Iglesias, who had served in New Mexico. Scott Horton, legal contributor at Harper's, examined the Dannehy investigation in a piece titled "Another audacious GOP whitewash." Wrote Horton:
The investigation was also marked by a process of blindering, driven by the Justice Department itself, but without any apparent pushback from Nora Dannehy, the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney in Connecticut tapped by Attorney General Mukasey to handle the probe. Rather than look at the entire U.S. attorneys scandal, Dannehy settled on a probe of a single case: that involving New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias. This is the one case in which the available evidence showed that the decision was taken by President Bush himself, in the White House. The cast of characters included Karl Rove, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, and New Mexico Congresswoman Heather Wilson. Executive privilege was invoked to block any meaningful investigation of what happened inside the White House, and a number of Bush officials declined to cooperate with the investigation, which explains why Dannehy could not find “sufficient evidence.”
What kind of "legacy" did Mukasey leave at the DOJ? Horton sums it up:
Nora Dannehy’s decision to take no action, coupled with all the lame rationalizations of inaction that preceded it, is another self-administered bullet wound to the integrity of the Justice Department. It makes clear that the Department has a well-honed double standard. There is one standard applied by the Department’s Public Integrity Section to political figures of the party out of power (whether Democrats or Republicans, doesn’t really matter). Minor indiscretions and fundraising gaffes will be prosecuted as crimes, usually under the “honest-services fraud” statute, using standards that three Supreme Court justices recently ridiculed as lacking any intellectual or political integrity. Conduct by Justice Department political appointees that is comparable or still worse, however, will simply be fluffed off—sometimes after lengthy internal probes designed to create the appearance that the Department takes the matter seriously. How can a Justice Department hold its own personnel to a lower standard under the law than they hold other public officials? This is a formula for disaster. Dannehy’s decision not to proceed is an open invitation to future administrations: the White House is free to manipulate the Department for political purposes, and Justice Department officials are free to lie to Congress.
Bottom line? Michael Mukasey has no business questioning the integrity of Hillary Clinton, or anyone else. Especially when you consider that FBI director James Comey admitted that none of three key e-mails in question was properly marked as classified, according to State Department rules. In other words, Clinton had no proper marking to tell her the information was classified, so Comey's decision not to prosecute was on target. Are we now expecting public officials to be mind readers? Of course not?
Even politifact.com, after suggesting FBI findings would "tear holes" in Clinton's defense, ended with this whimper, in the form of an editor's note buried at the bottom of the story:
Editor's note: The day after we published this fact-check, Comey testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on July 7. Comey said he believes three emails on Clinton's server contained information labeled classified at the time they were sent. This information was not properly marked in that the emails did not have a classification header, even though a "(c)" immediately preceded text in the body of the emails, designating confidential information. Without the clear classification header, it's reasonable to infer that Clinton did not realize these three emails contained classified information, he said.
Michael Mukasey should know there was no crime in the Clinton case, but he's a political hack -- a fact he proved during his time as Bush attorney general. Put enough political hacks in positions of power, and you wind up with a justice system that resembles a cesspool. That's what we have right now -- and a democracy without justice won't be a democracy for long.