Monday, March 19, 2007

The political reasons behind the firing of the U.S. Attorney from Arizona

Radley Balko reports at the Agitator on the political reasons behind the firing of U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton of Arizona.

The only reason for his filing in documents released from the Justice Department is that former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert complained that Charlton refused to pursue marijuana cases unless they involved at least 500 pounds of marijuana. This seems like a reasonable strategy for something that shouldn't even be illegal in the first place, and certainly should be a lower priority than other issues.

But it also seems that the White House was not happy that Charlton and one of the other fired U.S. Attorneys were not pursuing obscenity cases that were being sent to them by the Justice Department. The Justice Department's "porn czar," Brent Ward, sent a memo to recently resigned DOJ Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson titled "Obscenity Cases" which said:
We have two U.S. Attorneys who are unwilling to take good cases we have presented to them. They are Paul Charlton in Phoenix (this is urgent) and Dan Bogden in Las Vegas. In light of the AG's [Attorney General's] comments at the NAC to 'kick butt and take names', what do you suggest I do? Do you think at this point that these names should go through channels to reach the AG, or is it enough for me to give the names to you? If you want to act on what I give you, I will be glad to provide a little more context for each of the two situations."
Adult Video News did further investigation, and found that Charlton had taken an obscenity case, but it would be far-fetched to call it a "good case." It was an obscenity case against an adult video store in Arizona, while simultaneously another video store chain was selling and renting the same titles that the first video store was indicted for selling. The reason the second chain wasn't also prosecuted? It had recently declared bankruptcy and was being run by trustees from the federal government. And it appears that this inequity in treatment may be the reason why Charlton declined to pursue the original case, after it was brought to his attention by attorneys from the indicted store.

More details and links at The Agitator.

And there's more on the other attorney firings at TPM Muckraker.

UPDATE (March 26, 2007): Balko has further comments on Charlton's firing based on the emails that have been released from the DOJ. Charlton was the #1 prosecutor in the nation for number of cases, and had the backing of Sen. Jon Kyl, but was fired anyway. Was it for his refusal to prosecute low-level pot cases, for his investigation of Rep. Rick Renzi, or was it because he was promoting the idea that the FBI should videotape interrogations and interviews of suspects, an idea which was scuttled because the FBI and DOJ didn't want juries to see what actually happens in such interrogations.

UPDATE (April 27, 2007): The New York Times editorialized yesterday about the connection between Charlton's firing and his investigation of Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi:

Congressman Rick Renzi, an Arizona Republican, was locked in a close re-election battle last fall when the local United States attorney, Paul Charlton, was investigating him for corruption. The investigation appears to have been slowed before Election Day, Mr. Renzi retained his seat, and Mr. Charlton ended up out of a job — one of eight prosecutors purged by the White House and the Justice Department.

The Arizona case adds a disturbing new chapter to that scandal. Congress needs to determine whether Mr. Charlton was fired for any reason other than threatening the Republican Party’s hold on a Congressional seat.

Mr. Renzi was fighting for his political life when the local press reported that he was facing indictment for a suspect land deal. According to The Wall Street Journal, federal investigators met unexpected resistance from the Justice Department in getting approval to proceed and, perhaps as a result, the investigation was pushed past the election.

TPM Muckraker reports that Renzi failed to disclose a $200,000 payment he received, in violation of House ethics rules. This is in addition to his other issues, previously reported here.


cowmix said...

I have nothing against pot or porn, but the AZ firing seems to have the MOST justification compared to most of the other seven cases.

I the AZ case, there doesn't seem to be any attempt to stall an ongoing investigation into something that might incriminate the GOP or I don't see anything that is pushing for a 'timely' indictment of DEMs..

In the AZ case, it just appears like the administration wasn't happy with the types of cases the USA was pursuing.

To sum up.. I think the reason for being fired is very insane.. but its the strongest case I have seen for the administration so far.

Jim Lippard said...

That's a good point--in the case of San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam, they're just lying when they say she wasn't prosecuting immigration cases. It looks like they manufactured that as an excuse later, and the real reason Kyle Sampson wrote that there was "a real problem we have right now with Carol Lam" on May 11, 2006 was that she had just publicly announced she was going after the #3 guy in the CIA, Dusty Foggo, a day before.

Jim Lippard said...

cowmix: Charlton was investigating Rep. Rick Renzi...