For those of us living in the Garden State, the growing scandal over the firing of federal prosecutors immediately brought to mind the subpoenas that Chris Christie, the former Bush “Pioneer” who is now the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, issued two months before the 2006 election — and the way news of the subpoenas was quickly leaked to local news media.
The subpoenas were issued in connection with allegations of corruption on the part of Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat who seemed to be facing a close race at the time. Those allegations appeared, on their face, to be convoluted and unconvincing, and Mr. Menendez claimed that both the investigation and the leaks were politically motivated.
You might recall The Narrative about last fall’s Senate race in New Jersey — voters were being forced to choose between a corrupt politician (Menendez) versus a pure and clean Republican who agreed with Bush’s policy on Iraq. This is from an October 2006 Washington Times story:
Political observers say the outcome depends on whether voters here get angrier about Mr. Bush and the Iraq war or about state corruption.
“Is this going to be a national referendum or is it going to be a statewide referendum on state corruption?” said New Jersey Republican political consultant Mark Campbell. “If this is national, Menendez wins; if this is a statewide election on the need for reform … Tom Kean Jr. wins.”
“People deserve to know if their senator is the only senator under federal criminal investigation,” Mr. Kean said as he took a break Oct. 8 from shaking hands with the tailgating crowd at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Kean Junior, whose father had been a popular New Jersey governor, ran a one-note campaign on the Menendez corruption charges. Menendez won, 53 percent to 45 percent. Whether there was any substance to the allegations against Menendez I do not know. What I do know is that the news stories about the alleged corruption dried up after the election.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written about the U.S. Attorney scandal, and I plan to catch up on the most recent developments later today. But for now I want to focus on Krugman’s point —
The bigger scandal, however, almost surely involves prosecutors still in office. The Gonzales Eight were fired because they wouldn’t go along with the Bush administration’s politicization of justice. But statistical evidence suggests that many other prosecutors decided to protect their jobs or further their careers by doing what the administration wanted them to do: harass Democrats while turning a blind eye to Republican malfeasance.
Donald Shields and John Cragan, two professors of communication, have compiled a database of investigations and/or indictments of candidates and elected officials by U.S. attorneys since the Bush administration came to power. Of the 375 cases they identified, 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats. The main source of this partisan tilt was a huge disparity in investigations of local politicians, in which Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny.
Righties will probably argue that Democrats are seven times more likely to be corrupt; to which I say, I doubt that.
And let’s not forget that Karl Rove’s candidates have a history of benefiting from conveniently timed federal investigations. Last year Molly Ivins reminded her readers of a curious pattern during Mr. Rove’s time in Texas: “In election years, there always seemed to be an F.B.I. investigation of some sitting Democrat either announced or leaked to the press. After the election was over, the allegations often vanished.”
It’s not just Democratic candidates. You might remember that at the beginning of 2003, Scott Ritter was trying to warn the world that the Bush Administration was cooking up phony evidence as a pretext for war. Out of the blue, a sealed court record about Scott Ritter was leaked to the press; details here.
“…it’s becoming clear that the politicization of the Justice Department was a key component of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a permanent Republican lock on power,” Krugman writes. Ya think?