Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Real Problem

Slate's Dahlia Litwick conflates the Duke rape case and the Federal Prosecutors case in order to point out the real significance of the White House's cynical attempt to politicize the U.S. Attorney's offices.

It's easy to be distracted, even slightly amused, by the banal office shenanigans that make up the day-to-day coverage of the scandal. Increasingly, the Justice Department is revealed in all its wacky Dunder Mifflin glory. Alberto Gonzales is unmasked as The Office's Michael Scott—in so far over his head that he has no idea what his youthful employees are up to. With our daily focus on who was e-mailing whom and who was spending what on their fancy investitures, it's tempting to dismiss senior Justice Department staff ranking U.S. attorneys for their "loyalty" to the president as sophomoric. The Duke case is a useful reminder that the little plastic game cards being shuffled around and swapped by Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling were, in fact, loaded weapons.

Federal prosecutors, like state district attorneys, have tremendous power and almost limitless discretion to launch investigations, to subpoena, to file charges, to question witnesses, and to drop charges when the facts don't bear them out. And if the Duke case reminds us of anything, it's that the innocent targets of such investigations and indictments have only one power: to wait it all out and hope for the best.

When politics are injected into these individual prosecutions—when officials have one eye on the law and the other on mollifying either the party bosses or local voters—it's a certainty that justice will be lost in the shuffle.


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