Word came last week that the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is investigating the actions of several U.S. attorneys for signs of possible political prosecution.
Now that news is reverberating around the country, and the latest echo comes in Mississippi, home of the Paul Minor case that led to the imprisonment of a major Democratic donor and two former state judges.
Jerry Mitchell, an award-winning reporter at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, reports that the Minor case, the Don Siegelman case in Alabama, and the Georgia Thompson case in Wisconsin are at the heart of the OPR probe.
"This really is a major step for the office to investigate its own prosecutors in the Justice Department," said Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, who was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Minor case.
Minor, who was known for successfully suing the tobacco and asbestos industries, was convicted and is in federal prison, along with former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield.
Mitchell, noting connections between the Siegelman and Minor cases, writes:
In a May 5 letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., H. Marshall Jarrett, counsel for the Office of Professional Responsibility, wrote that the Justice Department was examining allegations of selective prosecution related to Diaz, Minor, Siegelman and Thompson.
Siegelman's lawyer, Doug Jones of Birmingham, said this is an extension of the probe that began last year into the dismissals of nine U.S. attorneys, which helped lead to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation.
"The investigation is looking at the allegations of possible perjury and obstruction of justice at the highest levels of the Justice Department," Jones said.
The White House reportedly approved the dismissals of seven of those U.S. attorneys after concluding they weren't doing enough to carry out President Bush's policies. Some prosecutors said they were shown the door for refusing to prosecute Democrats.
"The prosecutors who were fired did the right thing," Diaz said. "But that leaves open the question whether there were any pressures brought to bear on those U.S. attorneys who weren't fired."
Dunn Lampton, the U.S. attorney who spearheaded the Minor prosecution, originally was on a Bush administration list of prosecutors to be fired. But he led the Minor case and wound up not being dismissed.
Asked Saturday about the Office of Professional Responsibility investigating allegations of selective prosecution, Lampton responded, "There's not anything I can comment on."
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