In Defense of Schumer: It Isn’t About Torture

NY Sen Charles Schumer has been getting pummeled for his support of Michael Mukasey as Bush’s new AG. Maybe he deserves some of the vitriol sent his way, I won’t argue that, but lost in the understandable fury over his pimping for an authoritarian torture-excuser is any mention of the real reason that Schumer is backing him, and that reason, I believe, has nothing whatever to do with torture.

If Mukasey has been waffling unacceptably about whether or not waterboarding is torture – and he has – he has been very strong and very clear and very unambiguous about his opposition to the politicization of the DOJ and his determination to return it to professionalism and non-partisan, non-political defense of the law.

Before I go on, two things need to be understood right off the bat.

1. Nothing I write in defense of Schumer should in any way be construed to mean I support or agree with his conclusion. I don’t. I think Mukasey would be a disastrous choice to run the DOJ for the last lap of Bush’s horrendous presidency primarily because he is a devout believer in the right of a Republican president to usurp the powers of the other Constitutional branches and absorb them into the Executive, effectively crippling both the courts and Congress. He believes in the Imperial Presidency and that the president has the powers of a monarch. He doesn’t belong in the AG’s chair. Period.

2. My intention is not to support Schumer but to explain his decision by bringing into the open the very real and legitimate fears that informed it, and that seem so far to be under most of the left blogosphere’s radar. It’s clear to me that there are too many people unaware of the damage Gonzo/Rove USA’s are doing in almost every state but particularly in the South. It is serious damage, politically and legally, and it is damage which Mukasey would stop. That’s the basis of Schumer’s support, and to understand it you need a sense of what’s been perpetrated, especially against Democratic politicians, by Rove’s politicized DOJ.

To that end, I’m going to summarize just a few of the political persecutions currently in courts across the country, and I stress the words “a few”. There are dozens, many of which have barely made the national press. Most folks seem to think the DOJ scandals stopped with the infamous firing of 8 USA’s who were the subject of Congressional hearings that eventually led to Gonzo’s resignation. The truth is, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Don Siegelman

Siegelman, a former Alabama Gov and a Democrat is currently serving a 7-yr sentence for bribery after a prosecution that was, beginning to end, marked by suspicious evidence, even more suspicious testimony, and the involvement of notorious figures in Alabama’s GOP who had strong connections to Karl Rove. Scott Horton of No Comment has been all over this story for months, and the deeper you dig into it, the nastier it gets. It’s so bad that at least one Republican has charged publicly that the Siegelman case was politically motivated.

You can read Horton’s posts to get up to speed, but the short version is nicely encapsulated by Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson.

A popular Democrat in a red state, Siegelman narrowly lost his job in 2002 when a couple of thousand votes suspiciously changed overnight. It looked like he would recapture the governorship in 2004. A judge threw out a case against him for bid rigging for insufficient evidence.

But as he was getting ready to run in the Democratic primary, another investigation was opened.

Former Alabama U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who once represented the former governor, testified that the new probe came after orders from Washington to undertake a “top to bottom” review of the Siegelman case. The subsequent indictment and trial of Siegelman meant he couldn’t run. Republican Bob Riley sailed to re-election.


The case was further undermined by a Republican lawyer, Jill Simpson. She gave the committee a sworn affidavit that the local U.S. attorney’s husband, Bill Canary, a top consultant to Alabama Republicans, said his “girls” — his wife and a colleague — would take care of Siegelman, all with the OK of his good friend and Bush adviser Karl Rove.

The result of this blatant political persecution was a stolen election, a Republican governor who would otherwise not be, and an innocent man sent to jail for 7 years on trumped-up charges and phony evidence. Jailed, in other words, for the crime of being a popular Democrat in a largely Republican state. The techniques used have Karl Rove’s fingerprints all over them, and they worked. Alabama’s political structure is now entirely Republican, the state’s Democratic party crippled for the foreseeable future. I wish I could say this case is an anomaly but it isn’t. The pattern is being repeated across the country.

Georgia Thompson

Wisconsin USA Steve Biskupic, under pressure from Karl Rove to go after Democrats, as Jeralyn Merritt explained last April, charged an unknown state worker with no political connections to speak of, one Georgia Thompson, with corruption in the awarding of a state contract. Once again, I’ll let Carlson do the summarizing.

In an appeal of a similarly partisan case in Wisconsin that sent Georgia Thompson, a middle-aged, mid-level government procurement officer to jail, the judge was so appalled by the facts she ordered Thompson immediately released and acquitted without a new trial. [And she did it on the first day of oral arguments. – MA]

Thompson was accused of awarding a contract to a travel agency that gave campaign contributions to Democratic Gov. James Doyle. She wasn’t a pal of the governor and she was one of seven officials who voted to give the contract to the lowest bidder.

Republicans used the arrest in an ad against Doyle showing a cell door clanging shut over a grainy picture of Thompson with the word “Guilty” slashed across her face.

Shades of Willie Horton. Biskupic, who Jeralyn says had a “good reputation” before the Rovian heat came down, was under the gun because he had investigated a favorite Rove complaint – that cases of Democratic “voter fraud” were going unprosecuted, and that specifically there was “a conspiracy to commit widespread voter fraud in Wisconsin” – and traced it back to a couple of college kids who’d made the whole thing up. When Biskupic dropped the case, he became a target and his job was threatened. His response was to grab the first Democrat he saw and invent a case to prosecute.

Cyril Wecht & Judge Hilton Fuller

In case you think this is ancient history and all over, there are two cases right now of Republican persecution of Democrats. I’ve already written about both of them and won’t bore you with repeating it all again, but I’ll summarize the first to make my point – or rather, Schumer’s.

Cyril Wecht, a Pittsburgh coroner and outspoken Democrat well-known in the state, is under indictment for mail fraud by Republican, Bush-appointed USA Mary Beth Buchanan on the thinnest evidence since Georgia Thompson. With Gonzo and Rove both supposedly “gone”, where’s the pressure on Buchanan coming from? Possibly nowhere.

Buchanan may very well be on her own hook. She’s a dedicated Bushie, and without somebody up top to tell her to cut it out, she’s vigorously pursuing a bogus charge against a Democrat because that’s still the way to get ahead in the Bush DOJ.

There are dozens like her put in place by Karl Rove over the last 6 years, and every one of them knows on which side of the bread they’ll find the butter. The road to political fame and fortune in the Bush DOJ leads straight to the persecution of Democratic pols, with or without actual evidence. As Karl used to say, throw enough smoke around and you’ll convince people there has to be a fire somewhere.

The simple fact is that Bush isn’t going to nominate anyone for AG who won’t back his executive power grab, including his divine right to define torture as not torture. Held to that standard, there will be no AG for the rest of his term, and to Schumer that means the persecutions of Democrats and the piecemeal destruction of the Democratic party in vulnerable states will continue unabated.

There’s a very real danger here that in key states and/or precincts, Democrats will no longer be politically viable by the time a Dem Pres gets to nominate a new AG. Mukasey may be an authoritarian enabler, but he’s also a thorough professional who would put a stop to bogus political prosecutions of Dems by Pub USA’s still operating under Rovian rules. What Schumer is afraid of – not unjustly – is the next nomination if Mukasey is rejected, this time of a torture-defender and a persecutor of Democrats who will ramp up the DOJ’s assault on the party in the waning days of the Bush/Cheney regime. No new AG is almost as bad, from his POV, since it leaves Rove’s minions to keep right on doing what they’ve been doing.

That doesn’t excuse his support of Mukasey but it’s a legitimate concern that certainly explains it. Schumer is a lawyer who knows full well what Mukasey’s refusal to reject torture means, but he’s also a dyed-in-the-wool political animal who understands all too well the damage these political prosecutions are doing to his party, and he’s convinced Mukasey will end them. Since an anti-torturer will NEVER be nominated by Bush, he’s willing to take what he can get.

It’s the kind of unacceptable choice the Bush/Cheney Admin is famous for forcing people to make.

6 Responses to “In Defense of Schumer: It Isn’t About Torture”

  1. Laura says:

    Well alright, Mick; I’ll take your word for it. What can you point me to in order to make a stronger argument for Mukasey ending these political (per)prosecutions. I don’t understand how he will be able to rise above it. If he can, Bush might have a little something to say about it. (…unless Bush has already agreed to let some of these political games go just because not every underhanded deed really needs to be played out. They’ve proved they can do it and they may be already smugly satisfied with the results.)

  2. Laura says:

    proved, proven… er somethun

  3. mick says:

    Have proved, has proven.

    I was going by the reaction to Schumer’s recommendation of Mukasey when his name first came up – which tended to be positive – and James Comey’s assessment that M wouldn’t put up for a minute with what Gonzo had allowed. The best positive precis on Mukasey, tho – and I grant that it was in the beginning before the torture subject reared its ugly head – came from Glenn Greenwald back in Sept. Greenwald’s a Constitutional lawyer, and the post concerns what Greenwald called Mukasey’s “impressive independence” over the Padilla case. Here’s a taste (tho you should really read the whole thing).

    I want to highlight one extremely relevant consideration concerning Judge Mukasey — the impressive role he played in presiding over the Jose Padilla case in its earliest stages. After Padilla was first detained in April 2002 and declared an “enemy combatant,” he was held incommunicado, denied all access to the outside the world, including counsel, and the Bush administration refused to charge him with any crimes. A lawsuit was filed on Padilla’s behalf by a New York criminal defense lawyer, Donna Newman, demanding that Padilla be accorded the right to petition for habeas corpus and that, first, he be allowed access to a lawyer. That lawsuit was assigned to Judge Mukasey, which almost certainly made the Bush DOJ happy.

    But any such happiness proved to be unwarranted. Judge Mukasey repeatedly defied the demands of the Bush administration, ruled against them, excoriated them on multiple occasions for failing to comply with his legally issued orders, and ruled that Padilla was entitled to contest the factual claims of the government and to have access to lawyers. He issued these rulings in 2002 and 2003, when virtually nobody was defying the Bush administration on anything, let alone on assertions of executive power to combat the Terrorists. And he made these rulings in the face of what was became the standard Bush claim that unless there was complete acquiescence to all claimed powers by the President, a Terrorist attack would occur and the blood would be on the hands of those who impeded the President.

    Tends to suggest Schumer’s praise is accurate.

  4. Laura says:

    Thanks. I’ll read it.

  5. Mick Arran says:

    You’re welcome. I’m glad you asked. After all Mukasey’s negative press, there were probably a lot of people wondering the same thing – “Where’d Schumer get the notion this guy was independent?” You’re right – I should have included a little of Greenwald’s assessment in the post itself. Next time, I’ll try to remember to do that.

  6. Chuck says:

    Tune in tonight for out interview with world-renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht. Feel free to call in and talk to him on air. Check it out at 8 pm EST Wed. Dec. 5th at

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