What's All This Then?

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

It’s a good thing that Patrick Fitzgerald doesn’t have the job currently held by Kenneth Wainstein. Wainstein is the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. As such, he has the authority to investigate possible criminal activity in the district and to bring evidence before a grand jury. Technically, I guess that would give him the authority to bring indictments against anyone in DC, up to and including the President of the United States.

When I say it’s a good thing that Patrick Fitzgerald doesn’t have Wainstein’s job, I mean that it’s a good thing for the President, because based on what’s going on in Illinois, where Fitzgerald is the United States Attorney for the Northern District, we might already be a week or two into the trial of George Walker Bush for all kinds of criminal activities. I’m sure part of the indictment against him would have implied - or stated unequivocally - that while Mr. Bush was President "The United States of America was for sale."

That’s one of the accusations against the former Governor of the State of Illinois, Goerge Ryan, currently on trial for criminal a activities while he was Governor - and before that Secretary of State. That while he was in office "the state of Illinois was for sale!!" There’s a remarkable similarity between actions of Governor Bush which Fitzgerald says are criminal - and those of the Bush administration, for which Bush, as CEO of his administration, could be held responsible.

Fitzgerald says that Ryan awarded state contracts to friends and was "paid off" by those friends with gifts and free vacations. His deputy handling the trial hasn’t been able to persuade the state’s key witness to testify that contracts were awarded because of such gifts - but somehow they’re making it sound like it’s a criminal offense to do business with anyone you know or are friendly with once you’re elected to office. Using that as a yardstick, President Bush would be facing several life sentences for the friends he’s done business with or hired since he was elected. And there wouldn’t enough years available to punish Dick Cheney if they ever indicted and convicted him for those kind of offenses. One of his "friends" was getting government contracts in the billions while he was still on their payroll!!

Patrick Collins, Fitzgerald’s deputy in charge of the trial, has been making a big deal out of another of Ryan’s "criminal" activities - that of giving out low license plate numbers to friends and financial supporters. When they reach down to the bottom of their barrel of legal tricks for this kind of "evidence" of criminality, you can tell that they really want to nail this guy, Imagine. A politician doing favors for supporters. Giving them low license plate numbers!! Lock the jailhouse door and throw away the key.

But what really compels me to write about this case as I close out the work week, is something I’ve written about before - a continuing effort by the State and others to assign personal blame to Ryan for the death of six children in a horrible accident that occurred while he was Secretary of State. The details are described in my post of December 18, 2003. The children were killed by something falling of a truck being driven by someone who had obtained a commercial driving license by bribing an examiner.

There’s no question that Ryan, as Secretary of State at the time when some examiners at testing stations were taking bribes to pass out drivers licenses to less than qualified applicants, has to accept responsibility for that or any other illegal activity that took place on his watch.. The old "buck stops here" adage. But there was never any indication that he knew about or condoned these activities. And to my mind, there is no way that the deaths of six children in a traffic accident can be attributed to the issuance of a drivers license that was approved by an examiner who accepted a bribe.

Lawyers for the parents of the dead children and at least one local columnist, have tried to make a direct connection between the tragedy and George Ryan, as though such an accident could never have happened if the driver of the truck from which materials spilled into the path of the car in which the children were traveling had not bribed a driving examiner - and as though Ryan was personally responsible for this driver being on the road at all. Note that the accident had nothing to do with the way then truck was being driven, but was attributed to the driver’s failure to notice that something was loose and in danger of falling off his truck.

And now the State of Illinois is trying to persuade the judge in Mr. Ryan’s case to allow the story of this tragic accident to be used as evidence against him. Ryan may be guilty of committing illegal acts while he was Governor or Secretary of State and if the United States Attorney for Northern Illinois believes that to be the case, he has the right and responsibility to present evidence in court to prove the commission of those illegal acts. But he also has the responsibility to play fair and not try to influence the jury with emotional issues having nothing to do with the charges listed in the indictment.

It’s like trying a defendant for burglary and asking the judge to allow evidence of his poor grades in school and the number of times he forgot his mother’s birthday and his parents’ anniversary. Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel to try getting a conviction.

This is Patrick Fitzgerald’s ultimate responsibility. Let’s hope he comes up with something less dubious when he announces his conclusions in the Valeri Plame outing case.