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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Steven Biskupic: Maybe he should have been fired

by folkbum

It's all coming together much more clearly now.

We Wisconsin bloggers have been following the Georgia Thompson mess since it started over a year ago. We knew then that the evidence was sketchy: Thompson, someone Governor Jim Doyle didn't hire and never met, slightly fudged a bidding process to keep a travel contract in-state and to save taxpayers money. Doyle's Secretary of Administration, Marc Marotta, who was the liason in that process, did not tell Thompson to rig the bidding or, really, anything beyond the outlines of what he expected a final contract to look like.

Thompson got no personal benefit. Marotta got no personal benefit. Doyle got no personal benefit except the already-spent contributions from people associated with the winning bidders, $20,000 out of millions, two individual donors out of thousands from that campaign.

And on that evidence, a jury not only convicted Thompson but several jurors publicly stated they thought the scandal went higher. (They must have been listeners of Belling or Sykes.) On that evidence, US Attorney Steve Biskupic demanded immediate jail time nowhere near commensurate to the crime.

We Wisconsin bloggers have been following the "voter fraud" stories since they started over two years ago. We knew then that the evidence was sketchy: Steve Biskupic and then-Milwaukee County DA E. Michael McCann, at the prodding of a Doyle-hostile newspaper editorial board and a democracy-hostile state Republican Party, spent eleven months and untold thousands of dollars in taxpayer dollars to secure fewer than two dozen indictments for "fraud," most of felons voting (including the one who showed his "FELON" identification card to the poll worker who registered him, and the one who wore his "I Voted" sticker to meet with parole officer later that day--clearly, not people engaged in "fraud" but rather dumbly unaware that they were not allowed to vote). They hounded people like Cynthia Alicea, who was told to fill out a second registration card because her first was messed up--Biskupic thought she voted twice. (None of that compares with the idiocy of the Republicans themselves, though.)

Biskupic's inability to prove, despite months of wasted resources on the matter, that there was wide-spread Democratic voter fraud led the state's Republican part to complain to the White House's political operation that Biskupic wasn't doing his job. And, indeed, he wasn't, as his myopic focus--fruitless, but single-minded--kept him from investigating the Republicans' documented wide-spread voter intimidation in Democratic wards all across Milwaukee.

And in another case we Wisconsin bloggers have been following since the beginning, earlier this year, Steve Biskupic found that a major state political player--Dennis Troha--was illegally beating campaign contribution requirements by giving his family and friends "loans" to cover those people's contributions to Governor Jim Doyle. Biskupic said not one word about how similar bundles of money flowed to Republican Congressman Paul Ryan (who has also admitted to helping Troha with federal agencies) or to two other Congressmen who greased the wheels for legislation that personally and professionally benefitted Troha. Let's be clear: There is nothing in eveidence that Jim Doyle promised or provided to Troha in exchange for the money, but there is plenty to indicate that Ryan and the other Congressmen did provide help to Troha. At most, Doyle opponents have said that Troha was given the help required by state law to deal with interstate trucking taxes.

Biskupic's prosecution of Troha will almost certainly net a conviction, because the evidence is solidly against him. But the trial will, I bet, focus exclusively on Doyle, not anything else where the trail of quid pro quo seems even clearer. Troha, like Thompson, like the "fraudulent" voters, will not roll on anyone else up the food chain because there is no chain. Biskupic is chasing cases that, when you blow hard enough, can seem like smoke surrounding Democrats, specifically Doyle. But there is no fire there.

As it turns out, it's looking more and more like Steve Biskupic is not doing a good job and ought, perhaps, to have been fired.

But all the smoke he's blowing must have saved his behind. The overturning of Thompson's conviction came at just the wrong time for Biskupic, as now people are starting to connect him more and more clearly to the national US Attorney scandal. And it looks like the Thompson conviction may have saved him from the purge:

Steven M. Biskupic, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, was once targeted for firing by the U.S. Justice Department but given a reprieve for reasons that remain unclear, McClatchy News Service reported Friday.

Congressional investigators looking into the firings of eight U.S. attorneys saw Biskupic's name on a list of attorneys targeted for removal when they were inspecting a department document not yet made public, an attorney for a lawmaker involved in the investigation told McClatchy. The attorney asked for anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the investigation.

It wasn't clear when Biskupic was added to a department hit list of prosecutors, or when he was taken off, or whether those developments were connected to a just-overturned corruption case.

Nevertheless, McClatchy reported that the disclosure aroused investigators' suspicion that Biskupic, who is based in Milwaukee, might have been retained in his job because he agreed to prosecute Democrats. Such politicization of the administration of justice is at the heart of congressional Democrats' concerns over the Bush administration's firings of the U.S. attorneys.
I was interested to find the chart released this week showing the "qualifications" of all 93 US Attorneys, criteria apparently used to determine whether or not to keep them around or purge them. The chart shows specifically whether the Attorneys have (Republican) political experience and solid conservative credentials. Here's the page with Biskupic:You can click for a larger version, or read the original pdf from the House Judiciary Committee (it's in set number one, but the pages are upside-down). Biskupic's record looks pretty thin compared to some of the others. Combined with state party complaints about his performance, you could see why he might have been on the short list to be fired. I mean, he's not even a member of the Federalist Society. (Aside: What kind of uproar would there be in the media right now if we learned that, say, the Clinton administration considered whether their US Attorneys were members of the ACLU? Compare that to the relative silence on the FedSoc column.)

Biskupic insists he was never under any pressure to prosecute Democrats. And, until I see documentary evidence to the contrary, I will believe him. (There are thousands of missing emails still, including the ones that would explain how and when Biskupic got off the purge list.) It strains credibility, however, to suggest that Biskupic wasn't aware of the state Republican Party's disatisfaction with his performance. It strains credibilty to suggest that Biskupic's single-minded focus on making Democrats, specifically Jim Doyle, look more corrupt than the evidence rightly shows they are, was not political.

It also strains credibility, now that the evidence is piling up, to suggest that Biskupic has done his job well.

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