WASHINGTON (CN) – The Department of Justice under the George W. Bush administration took off the blindfold and aimed the sites of prosecution on Democratic officials, a panel of experts has concluded. The report announced Friday was filled with examples of a justice department that had become little more than a weapon with which to pursue political opponents and those not sufficiently on board with the right-wing policies of the administration.
Federal prosecutors “were focused on the man and not on the crime,” said the Chief U.S. District Judge in Alabama, U.W. Clemens.
During a press conference at the National Press Club, Project Save Justice Executive Director Gail Sistrunk displayed a report by professors Donald Shields and John Cragan of the University of Minnesota that shows 85 percent of the indicted locally elected officials under the Bush administration were Democrats.
Of the 309 indictments of local elected officials, 262 were Democrats, 37 were Republicans, and ten were independents.
Elliot Mincberg, chief counsel for oversight investigations of the House Judiciary Committee said the chances of this happening randomly would be one in ten thousand.
However, the report shows that the number of charges brought against state and federal officials was roughly even, with 36 Democrats and 30 Republicans indicted by the Bush administration between 2001 and 2006.
Sistrunk explained the discrepancy between more important officials and local officials, and said the department pursued local officials because such indictments tend to get very little news coverage, but that replacing Democrats with Republicans at the local level in swing states could still keep Republicans in power beyond the lifetime of the Bush administration.
She also explained that Democrats were not the only ones indicted. Republicans who were not right-leaning enough were targeted, she said.
This would not be the first misconduct of the Justice Department under the Bush administration, which is under fire for its justification of enhanced interrogation techniques on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, among other things.
In 2007, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales resigned after a string of controversies. In one, the Justice Department fired nine attorneys without giving any reason. Six of the eight had been given positive performance reviews, leading many to believe the dismissals were politically motivated.
Tthe Justice Department alter reported that politics had illegally influenced its hiring of prosecutors and judges.
In April, Attorney General Eric Holder effectively vacated the conviction of Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, who was indicted in 2008 for not properly reporting gifts. Holder said prosecutors had withheld evidence. Federal judge Emmet Sullivan accepted Holder s motion, and declared that the conviction had been based on the worst prosecutorial misconduct he had ever seen.
In 2005, Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman was charged by federal prosecutors with bribery and mail fraud, but in November, new documents surfaced that underlined allegations of prosecutorial misconduct because of abnormal contact between the jury and the prosecution. Siegelman appealed and two of his seven charges were dropped. He will now face a new sentencing hearing.
Under the Bush administration, federal Prosecutors were focused on the man and not on the crime Judge Clemons said. He explained that federal prosecutors indicted local officials for technicalities, and said some prosecutors brought corruption charges for legal campaign contributions.
Clemens went further, and accused the Justice Department of shopping for a republican judge. As a personal example, he said federal prosecutors had tried to get him to recuse himself from presiding over a case by establishing a false relationship between him and the defendant.
Oliver Diaz, a former justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court, told the story of when he was indicted for corruption after he received significant campaign contributions from a prominent Mississippi trial lawyer, Paul Minor, even though Diaz had never sat before Minor as a judge. Diaz said federal prosecutors brought fifty counts against a group of five people, of which he as one. He was fully acquitted later.
Diaz s wife, Jennifer Diaz, was also indicted for her role with her husband s campaign, but Oliver Diaz said his wife ultimately pled guilty to an unrelated tax charge. He said prosecutors threatened that the couple would go away to federal prison, leaving their children without parents. He said his wife pled guilt to the lesser charge to stay with her kids.
Senator Eduardo Bhatia of Puerto told another story where federal prosecutors brought charges against the then governor of Puerto Rico, Aníbal Vilá, shortly before he was up for reelection.
Bhatia said 15 counts were dropped five days after Vilá lost the election and it was determined that if all the remaining charges were true, the governor would have owed only $193 in federal taxes. He was ultimately found not guilty by a unanimous jury, but is reportedly still trying to raise $3 million to cover his legal fees.
The Department of Justice was invited to participate at the press conference, but did not send a representative, and it did not respond to questions.