Michael Collins: The Edwards Prosecution - They have better things to do
We can draw several clear conclusions from the indictment of John Edwards.
The case is a joke, quite literally. It mocks justice.
The cast of characters consists of people who should have recused themselves, rather than bringing a prosecution. This strange case has the faint odor of the nonstop assault on former Alabama governor, Don Siegelman.
Apparently the Department of Justice has a lot of time on its hands. How else could it pursue this transparent nonsense while failing to prosecute the perpetrators of the financial collapse?
Finally, the prosecution shows that those in control are not even pretending to acknowledge a rule of law.
The Indictment has No Basis in Law
Prosecutors redefine and distort the definition of campaign contributions and activities to fit the Edwards case. They ignore the clearly stated language negating their claim. As a result, this prosecution is so flawed it can only be judged as a personal or political prosecution.
The third sentence of the Edwards indictment states: "A centerpiece of Edwards' candidacy was his public image as a devoted family man." Having made that assertion, the US Attorney sprung his trap. The Election Act’s contribution limit applied "to anything of value provided for the purpose of influencing the presidential election…" That’s the entire case. John Edwards took money to cover up a personal problem that would have hurt his campaign. Taking the money isn’t the main problem. Edwards would have been guilty had he used his own money. The alleged crime is using money in excess of the maximum limit for anything that influences the election.
There has never been a campaign finance prosecution using this broad theory. Here’s why. You have candidates who take salaries, cash in investments, undergo plastic surgery, and even receive mortgages and other loans during their candidacy. These acts all contribute to a candidate’s positive image in some way. But, they are not considered campaign expenditures under the campaign finance law used to charge Edwards. The law specifically excludes personal funds in Sections 431, 441 and elsewhere makes clear.
There’s no specific language in the law about paying off a mistress. But that’s clearly personal, an outcome of personal behavior. It’s no different than a candidate using money in excess of the $2,500 contribution limit to polish up his or her image with a loan for an electorate friendly ranch, a new "tuck," or even a vacation. Whether these are paid for with loans from others or with personal funds, these acts are never the cause of legal problems for the elected officials or their challengers.
What is campaign expenditure? Is it "anything of value provided for the purpose of influencing the presidential election"? The US Attorney would have us think so. But he knows better. That is language right out of federal election law. The indictment neglects language in the very same section, 431, Definitions (20), (A) that tells us what constitutes "Federal election activity" in the following subparagraphs: (i) voter registration; (ii) voter identification; (iii) public communication; and, (iv) services.
The specifics in (20) (A) make it perfectly clear what constitutes "election activity." It’s the nuts and bolts of getting the vote out, advertising, and the logistics of moving candidates and people around. There is no basis to expand and distort the definition as the Department of Justice prosecution does. The neglect of obvious clauses in the law that exculpate Edwards or anyone else similarly charged speaks to the transparent weakness of the indictment.
A Stacked Deck at the Department of Justice
Who had the gall to bring this indictment in the first place? It comes from the Department of Justice, via the US Attorney’s office, North Carolina, Eastern District. President George W. Bush appointed the US Attorney behind this effort in 2006, George E.B. Holding. He comes from the same family that owns the holding company that controls Citizens Bank, one of the largest regional banks in the Southeast. The family had strong ties to the late Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC). Holding’s three high profile indictments of politicians were all prominent Democrats.
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) put a hold on the Obama administration’s nominee to replace Holding. Burr got the silent assent of the Democratic Senator from that State, Kay Hagen. Was this delay designed to get Edwards? We may never know. Burr is the fall guy for this awful prosecution, according to Obama administration apologists. In fact, if Obama wanted his own US Attorney, he would have had the appointment. It has been two and a half years since he took office.
Odd cases make strange bed fellows. The case would never have been brought were it not approved by the Department of Justice. The chief of the department’s section on public integrity, Jack Smith, co-signed the complaint. Andrew Kreig, Executive Director of the Justice Integrity Project, chronicled the unraveling of the section’s last big case, the prosecution of the late Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. The judge who dismissed the case said he’d never seen anything like the "mishandling and misconduct" in that prosecution in 25 years on the Federal bench. "
Lanny A. Breuer, President Obama’s choice to head the criminal division at main justice came to government from one of Washington’s true power firms, Covington and Burling, the same firm that Attorney General Eric Holder left when he became Attorney General. The indictment would not have occurred without their approval. At the law firm, Breuer headed up a division that represented targets of congressional probes: "Moody’s Investor Service in the wake of Enron’s collapse, and Halliburton/KBR in a hearing conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform." The fox now guards the hen house.
Where is the justice and equity in a baseless prosecution by a political enemy of John Edwards, supervised by a public integrity section that shocks judges by its misconduct, all under the banner of a Justice Department where the two senior officials are from a high powered DC law firm specializing in defending big money corporations accused of major crimes?
Where are the critically important financial fraud indictments?
The Great Recession of 2008 laid waste to the assets of the middle and working classes. By 2009, the top 1% of the country had incomes 255 times greater than the bottom four fifths of the population. The top 20% controlled 80% of the nation’s wealth, with 20% for the rest of the country. About 25% of citizens have a negative net worth
The value of home equity went from 13.5 trillion before the Great Recession to 5.3 trillion in the first quarter of 2009, a loss of $8.2 trillion for the most valuable asset most citizens own.
The likely perpetrators of the Great recession are among top 1% of the population. Many sources have documented the unmitigated greed and recklessness of Wall Street and the big banks, greed that precipitated the recession. A comprehensive report by a bipartisan Senate committee documents much of it, in detail, with extensive evidence.
What has the Department of Justice been up to during this time? When what many agree are true financial crimes, many involving mortgage fraud, we have every reason to expect indictments and prosecutions of those whose actions cost so much and caused such suffering?
The perpetrators of the 2008 financial crisis and Great recession caused losses 8.2 trillion in home equity values and the DOJ fraud task force recovered only $204 million (see chart). Yet, this same Justice Department has time to initiate a costly, trivial, absurd prosecution of a political figure who will never run for office again.
Talking up the administration’s Financial Fraud Task Force, Lanny A. Breuer, head of the justice criminal division said, "As you know, in the wake of the economic crisis, pursuing financial fraud is one of the Department’s top priorities."
A more familiar figure spoke out in support: "Through the Financial Fraud Task Force, we are making clear that the Obama Administration is going to act aggressively and proactively in a coordinated effort to combat financial fraud," said Treasury Secretary Geithner. November 17, 2009
What are they waiting for? Better yet, we should ask, why are they waiting? And, why is the US Attorney’s office that covers a major banking center, Charlotte, North Carolina, wasting his time prosecuting John Edwards?
We Live in a Lawless Nation
When great crimes go uninvestigated, let alone unpunished, and petty acts are construed to be crimes for political reasons, it is fair to conclude that we life in a lawless nation. That doesn’t mean all participants in the legal system are lawless, far from it. It means that those in the seats of great power use that power to protect the very wealthy no matter what the crimes, at the expense of the rest of us. For them, the law is a tool for control and settling scores.
The Bush administration mounted a systematic assault on what remained of the Constitution’s protections for individuals against unjust prosecution and mistreatment by the system. They provided tools for their successors in the Obama administration to carry on with abuses of power. Unfounded and petty prosecutions like the Edwards’s case and failure to prosecute the perpetrators of the financial collapse are just two examples.
(Image: John Edwards 2008)
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