Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
The era of political prosecutions more or less started in Alabama with the Don Siegelman case during the George W. Bush years. Perhaps it ended here yesterday, in the Obama years, when a federal jury in Montgomery rendered no convictions in an electronic bingo/vote buying trial.
Jurors deadlocked on some charges and found not guilty on all others. That's nine defendants, 37 counts, and zero convictions, for those of you keeping score at home. It was as if the jury sent the U.S. Justice Department this resounding message: "Take your bogus political prosecutions and jam them up your . . . " Well, you get the idea.
Andrew Kreig, of the D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project, called it "one of the most remarkable setbacks nationally" for federal prosecutors in decades. Kreig also nailed it when he wrote, "this was a humiliation of epic proportions for the Obama Justice Department and its Bush DOJ holdovers." Kreig goes on to outline the bumbling that accompanied the investigation:
The government, including the Republican state administration of two-term Gov. Bob Riley spent vast amounts in its investigation, prompted in part by Riley's public stance of opposing gambling. Riley last year sent 135 police vehicles on a dawn raid to shut down the Country Crossing electronic bingo casino in Dothan, for example. That police raid proved to be a public relations disaster that in effect previewed this week's. A YouTube video of the raid showed that the casino was already closed upon the arrival of what became known as the "Riley's Raiders" police armada, which seemed more suitable for quelling an armed urban riot than raiding a bingo parlor. On top of all the planning that must have gone into the 4 a.m. operation, troopers arrived without a search warrant and therefore had to return to HQ on that basis also.
Kreig, correctly, lays considerable blame for the fiasco at the feet of Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder:
Another matter sure to be analyzed not simply in Alabama but in legal circles nationally, including on this site, was how the DOJ run by Attorney General Eric Holder could come up with so little in a state so notorious for big-dollar official corruption.
One explanation we have heard directly from a prominent Democratic political figure in Alabama is that oversight in the two-party system is effectively dead in certain states such as Alabama. In this view, the Obama administration has decided to let Republicans in Alabama and similar Red States do what they want in hopes the Republicans will similarly smile on Democratic machinations in other parts of the country.
Two defendants were exonerated completely, and the seven others could face a retrial. But we suspect the government would be wise to slink away, lick its wounds, and leave the case alone. Do we want more of our taxpayer dollars wasted on bingo-related witch hunts? I don't think so.
In a post earlier this week--titled "Is Our Country Rotting From the Inside Out"--we outlined how the bingo case clearly was tainted and said that it had the look of a "flat-out sham." Jurors apparently agreed.
This might have been the most blatant political prosecution of them all--and it happened on Obama's watch, which should give progressives considerable pause. The general allegation was that certain individuals tried to buy the votes of state legislators on bills related to electronic bingo. But the investigation, and the trial, focused only on those who were pro bingo. It did not even begin to scrutinize those who were against bingo, led by former Republican Governor Bob Riley and his henchmen.
The case was about a political issue--with two sides, some folks pro and some con. But the federal government looked at only one side. In other words, they weren't prosecuting crimes, they were prosecuting certain people because of their beliefs. That is a textbook definition of a political prosecution. Let's consider a few big lessons from this fiasco: