In Politics, There's Corruption, And Then There's Really Serious Corruption

The U.S. Department of Justice seems to get a lot of its kicks these days from prosecutions of state and federal officials for alleged political corruption.  The typical case involves the pol who seems to have done a little too much to help his friends and contributors.  Among such cases that I have covered during the past couple of years have been those of former Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia, ex-Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver, ex-Majority Leader of the New York State Senate Joe Bruno, and another ex-Majority Leader of the New York State Senate Dean Skelos.  If you've been following this, you will recognize that all of those individuals got convicted by juries, but then all of the convictions have been reversed or vacated on appeal.  Similar cases involving federal pols include those of Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska and of Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey.  In the Menendez matter, the trial is still ongoing; but this time the smart money is betting that he will get acquitted by the jury on most if not all charges, without need for intervention by an appeals court.

All of these cases involve at least some level of distasteful conduct, some worse than others.  Read about them if you want to get an understanding of how much better constituent service you might get from your local representative or governor if you should just toss a couple of hundred K his way.  (For more details, go to the links.)  But, as the string of reversals suggests, the conduct in question in these cases was of a type that doesn't go to the heart of the integrity of the political process, and may even be impossible to effectively criminalize at all.  Let alone that the amounts of money in question were relatively small (only the Silver case of those mentioned involved more than $1 million; at the low end, the Stevens case involved alleged underpayment of less than $100K for services as to which Stevens claimed that he had paid full value); and in some of the cases the money at issue did not even go to the defendant personally.

But is there any corruption out there that is really serious, in the sense that it fundamentally goes go to the heart of the integrity of the political process?  I would have in mind something involving use the power of political office itself to attack and handicap the political opposition so that those in power can remain in power themselves and keep the opponents out.  Such a thing, if it occurred, would be far more serious and far more fundamental than anything involved in the DOJ prosecutions listed above.

Actually there are two examples of such fundamental and serious corruption in the news just today.  In both of these cases, it is none other than the Department of Justice itself that is the perpetrator of the corruption.

The first example involves a program of the Obama Justice Department known as "Access to Justice."  Under that program, banks and other institutions paying big settlement amounts in cases arising out of the financial crisis could get credit by directing some portion of the settlement funds to "charitable" organizations in the game of providing legal services.  Turns out that the recipients of the grants all happened to be left-wing friends and political supporters of the then-administration.  To its credit, the Wall Street Journal was on top of this story back in August 2016 ("Look Who's Getting That Bank Settlement Cash"), and I covered the matter in June 2017 ("Corruption In The Eye Of The Beholder").  

The story returns to today's news because Chairman Bob Goodlatte of the House Judiciary Committee released some emails explicitly showing Obama Justice officials rigging the allocation of the slush fund to be sure that no conservative-oriented group could get any of the money.  The Daily Signal has the story ("Obama Justice Department’s $1 Billion ‘Slush Fund’ Boosted Liberal Groups").  

Tony West, an associate attorney general during the Obama administration who is now a top official at PepsiCo Inc., figures prominently in a chain of email messages involving his staff members, the records show. . . .  Justice Department documents show that West’s staff went to great lengths to prevent conservative organizations from receiving any of the settlement funds.  In one email dated July 9, 2014, a senior Justice official on West’s team explains how the draft of a mandatory donation provision was rephrased for the purpose of  “not allowing Citi to pick a statewide intermediary like the Pacific Legal Foundation [PLF].” The official identified the foundation as a group that “does conservative property-rights free legal services.”

So who did get in on the money?  The WSJ identified a number of the beneficiaries in that linked article:  La Raza, the National Urban League, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and more . . .  In other words, various foot soldiers of the progressive movement.  To the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.  This makes Sheldon Silver and all those other guys look so small time!

And is there yet another example of deep and fundamental Justice Department corruption in the news just today?  Yes!  Of course it's the scandal of the Trump/Russia "dossier."  And yes, this story has also been around for months -- at least the part about the existence of the dossier and its use by the FBI to obtain FISA warrants targeting members of the Trump campaign while the campaign was in progress.  From CNN, April 18, 2017:

The FBI last year used a dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump's campaign as part of the justification to win approval to secretly monitor a Trump associate, according to US officials briefed on the investigation.  The dossier has also been cited by FBI Director James Comey in some of his briefings to members of Congress in recent weeks, as one of the sources of information the bureau has used to bolster its investigation, according to US officials briefed on the probe.

But now we learn that this "dossier" was actually Democratic Party opposition research funded by the Clinton campaign and the DNC.  From the Washington Post, October 24:

The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump's connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, people familiar with the matter said.

So the Justice Department under Obama took opposition research funded by the campaign of the candidate of the President's party and used that opposition research to obtain FISA warrants to spy on the campaign of the opponent?  Now we have taken corruption to another whole new level.  Oh, and then some of the same people who committed those acts are actually now the ones conducting a supposedly "independent" investigation of the President himself?

Don't worry, the Justice Department does not prosecute its own, no matter how serious and how fundamental the corruption.

UPDATE, October 27:  Let the spinning begin!  From Bloomberg News today:

A former U.S. intelligence official is denying Republican suggestions that a salacious dossier funded in part by opponents of President Donald Trumpcould have been used to justify surveillance as part of an investigation into him and his associates. 

"Republican suggestions"?  Oh, those nasty Republicans!  But wait!  It looks like that "suggestion" comes not from any Republican, but rather from CNN, April 18, 2017.  Check my link and see if I quoted it correctly.  CNN in turn cites "US officials briefed on the investigation."  So, good try Bloomberg.  What's your next excuse?

There's lots more to come on this story.  It should keep us entertained throughout the winter.