WashPost: Criminal Law is Not for Political Elites
The Washington Post Editors work in a city and live in a nation in which huge numbers of poor and minority residents are consigned to cages for petty and trivial transgressions of the criminal law -- typically involving drugs -- and pursuant to processes that are extremely tilted toward the State. Post Editors virtually never speak out against that, if they ever have. But that all changes -- that indifference disappears -- when political elites are targeted for prosecution, even for serious crimes:
IN COMMUTING I. Lewis Libby's prison sentence yesterday, President Bush took the advice of, among others, William Otis, a former federal prosecutor who wrote on the opposite page last month that Mr. Libby should neither be pardoned nor sent to prison. We agree that a pardon would have been inappropriate and that the prison sentence of 30 months was excessive. . . . Add to that Mr. Libby's long and distinguished record of public service, and we sympathize with Mr. Bush's conclusion "that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive."
The biggest sticking point [in agreeing to a new FISA bill] concerns the question of retroactive immunity from lawsuits for communications providers that cooperated with the administration's warrantless surveillance program. As we have said, we do not believe that these companies should be held hostage to costly litigation in what is essentially a complaint about administration activities.
[T]his is also a nation where two political parties compete civilly and alternate power peacefully. Regimes do not seek vengeance, through the courts or otherwise, as they succeed each other. Were Obama to criminally investigate his predecessor for what George W. Bush believed to be decisions made in the national interest, it could trigger a debilitating, unending cycle. . . . There is a better, though not perfect, solution, one that the administration reportedly considered, rejected and should consider again: a high-level, respected commission to examine the choices made in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, and their consequences. . . . The alternative, for Obama, is a series of debilitating revelations, prosecutions and arguments that could drip-drip-drip through the full length of his presidency.
THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT that former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) schemed to get around a Texas law prohibiting corporate contributions to political campaigns . . . .Mr. DeLay's conduct was wrong. It was typical of his no-holds-barred approach to political combat. But when Mr. DeLay, following the conviction, assailed "the criminalization of politics," he had a fair point.
LET’S STIPULATE: There are very likely good grounds to prosecute deposed Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak. . . . The decision by Egypt’s ruling military council and state prosecutors to begin a trial of the former strongman on Aug. 3 — before the country holds its first democratic elections — is nevertheless a mistake.
[W]e would not be particularly troubled by the effort to impose a fine [on John Edwards]. But a criminal case based on this novel application of the law goes too far. . . . Mr. Edwards is a cad, to put it mildly. His deplorable conduct would appear to have ended a once promising political career. It is troubling that the Justice Department would choose to devote its scarce resources to pursuing this questionable case.
In some of these cases (Libby, Mubarak), the Post couches its defense of political elites in terms of concerns about the process while claiming they're receptive to the possibility of punishment. In others (Edwards), the concerns they raise are not invalid. But whatever else is true, Post Editors are deeply and almost invariably disturbed when political elites are subjected to criminal accountability for their wrongful acts, but wholly indifferent -- if not supportive -- when ordinary Americans are mercilessly prosecuted for far less serious wrongdoing.
And it's not just Post Editors, but their stable of Op-Ed columnists, who reflexively defend political elites when they break the law. The late Dean of the Washington Press Corps, David Broder, was one of the first and most vocal advocates of one of the earliest expressions of elite immunity: Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, and Broder repeated that defense in 2006 upon Ford's death ("I thought and wrote at the time that he was well justified to spare the country further struggling with the Nixon legacy"). The Post's Broder also vigorously defended President Obama's decision to oppose prosecution of Bush officials: "he was just as right to declare that there should be no prosecution of those who carried out what had been the policy of the United States government. And he was right when he sent out his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to declare that the same amnesty should apply to the lawyers and bureaucrats who devised and justified the Bush administration practices."
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