In a letter due to be sent early this week, attorney Hiram Eastland asks Attorney General Eric Holder to take steps in the Minor case that are similar to those recently taken in Alaska cases. Holder asked that the case against former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) be dismissed and asked that former state legislators Victor Kohring and Peter Kott (both Republicans) be released from federal prison while their cases are reviewed.
Eastland notes that the U.S. Justice Department's Public Integrity Section (PIN), led by William Welch, was involved in the Alaska cases and the Minor case in Mississippi. Minor and former state judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield--all Democrats--remain in federal prison pending rulings from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
What has emerged in recent months is a troubling pattern and practice on the part of the Criminal Division under the direction of William Welch to allow ground level prosecutors to overreach in their legal theories, use questionable tactics to obtain evidence, and mislead, withhold, and manipulate trial material in order to further blatantly improper prosecutions.Such has been seen in the Ted Stevens, Georgia Thompson, and Cyril Wecht cases--cases in which the Department of Justice has seen fit to intervene to correct the improper behavior and tactics of the Criminal Division.
Sadly, in the Minor case--a case with examples more egregious than those upon which your intervention has occurred--men remain in prison denied of their personal freedom while the evidence mounts that their prosecutions were grossly mishandled by DOJ personnel under the watch of William Welch, chief of the criminal division.
Eastland points out that prosecutors in the Minor case, contrary to clear federal law, sought a jury instruction that did not require a quid pro quo (something for something) agreement in order to have a bribery conviction:
In the second trial the Government claimed that it was unnecessary to prove a specific Quid Pro Quo and therefore were able to make reference to the Bribery and Conspiracy charges without showing that there was any specific agreement. In fact in 2003 the Government admitted that they did not have any evidence of a Quid Pro Quo agreement against Paul Minor yet they still brought the case. Sir, knowing the structure and procedures of the Department of Justice as intimately as you do, you no doubt know that such an overreach in legal theory never would have been allowed to proceed without supervisory support within the Department.
The political nature of the Minor prosecution comes through loud and clear in Eastland's letter:
Mr. Minor was merely one of many attorneys who contributed to judicial campaigns in Mississippi, but was singled out and prosecuted for bribery on the basis of simply having made campaign contributions. There has never been a reasonable explanation offered as to why Paul Minor's campaign contributions were considered a bribe while thousands of others who also contributed in a like-manner were not investigated nor indicted.
In fact there has never been an explanation as to why, in this case, Paul Minor's campaign contributions to these judges were charged as a criminal act, but his campaign contributions to other judges were not.
Did the Minor prosecution dovetail with a Republican election strategy devised by Karl Rove? Yes, indeed:
Evaluating the case though the prism of partisan politics provides a glimpse into the motivation behind the Minor prosecution. The initial indictment against Paul Minor was released on July 25, 2003--14 days before the Primary Election and 102 days before the General Election in Mississippi. The Minor case was immediately seized upon by Republicans and used as campaign tool against then-incumbent Governor Ronnie Musgrove. Direct mail pieces used by the Haley Barbour campaign and the Mississippi Republican Party, linked the Minor case to Governor Musgrove. The vagueness of the charges benefitted the Republicans by stifling contributions from trial lawyers, long a reliable source of funding for the Democrats.
Eastland acknowledges the tough spot in which Holder finds himself. But Minor's attorney says justice demands immediate action from the Department of Justice:
We fully understand that it must be very troubling for you to discover that William Welch, the man entrusted to oversee high profile prosecutions, has engaged in improper if not illegal actions in allowing baseless prosecutions to proceed. However, while you untangle the internal web of misconduct at the Department of Justice, it is reprehensible that men continue to languish in the penal system as a result of Mr. Welch’s malfeasance.
We understand that these are very serious allegations. However, it is abundantly clear that in the Paul Minor case, as in Stevens and Wecht cases, there were egregious violations of the Department of Justice code of conduct for employees and attorneys.
Taking affirmative action in the Minor case has long since superseded the political realm. Direct intervention would provide you with the opportunity to produce a grocery list of malfeasance that would not have the world asking “why” you acted – conversely the production of the facts would beg the question “what took so long?”
Eastland's letter comes on the heels of a Huffington Post article by Brendan DeMelle, stating that justice is long overdue in the Minor case:
It is time for the Obama Justice Department to reverse one of the most egregiously political persecutions of the Bush era -- Paul Minor's bogus conviction on trumped up charges of public corruption "bribery" despite a total lack of evidence that his role as the top funder of Democratic candidates in Mississippi netted him anything other than misery and a harsh prison sentence.
Attorney General Eric Holder stated recently that "elections have consequences." That premise should apply not just to President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court and appointment of new U.S. Attorneys, as Holder mentioned. It should compel a swift review of the unjust prosecutions of prominent Democrats targeted by the Bush Justice Department.
Paul Minor's case is Exhibit A.