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Context of 'April 7-10, 2007: Critics Say Corruption Prosecution Politically Motivated'

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Republican Party officials in Wisconsin prepare a report, “Fraud in Wisconsin 2004: A Timeline/Summary,” that purports to document 65 “voter fraud” instances that they claim had a negative impact on the 2004 elections. US Attorney Steven Biskupic will investigate the claims in the report and find no evidence that crimes were committed. The document is later released by the House Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation into the 2006 US Attorney firings (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006); Biskupic is listed for firing just after the report is disseminated (see March 2, 2005). The document is written by Chris Lato, the communications director for the Wisconsin Republican Party, under the auspices of the state GOP’s executive director Rick Wiley. Wiley commissioned the report for White House political chief Karl Rove; in 2007, a source described in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel as having “knowledge of the situation” will tell a reporter: “The report was prepared for Karl Rove. Rick wanted it so he could give it to Karl Rove.” The 30-page report spans the time period from August 31, 2004 through April 1, 2005, and contains reports and summatives with titles such as “RPW [Republican Party of Wisconsin] News Release: Evidence of Election Fraud Piles Up.” In March 2005, White House counselor Dan Bartlett, whose primary role is handling communications issues, identifies Wisconsin as one of the states from which the White House had “received complaints about US Attorneys.” In April 2005, Rove sends a copy of the report to White House counsel Harriet Miers, with a handwritten note calling it “a good summary” of the various voter fraud allegations in Wisconsin, and a notation about an allegation of more votes being cast in certain precincts than those precincts have registered voters, with “proof” of that allegation being that a “local newspaper” assigned “an investigative reporter” to look into the charges. “I was assured Saturday while I was in Milwaukee that the issue of more voters than people on the registration list is real,” Rove writes to Miers. The information in the RPW report will later be incorporated into a larger report disseminated in July 2005 by the American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund (ACVR), entitled “Vote Fraud, Intimidation & Suppression in the 2004 Presidential Election.” ACVR officials Brian Lunde and Mark “Thor” Hearne will write that their report “documents hundreds of incidents and allegations from around the country.… [T]housands of Americans were disenfranchised by illegal votes cast on Election Day 2004.… [P]aid Democrat operatives were far more involved in voter intimidation and suppression activities than were their Republican counterparts.” The report concludes that “government-issued photo ID” requirements will “help assure” that “no American is disenfranchised by illegal votes.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007 pdf file; In These Times, 4/18/2007; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 pdf file] US Attorney David Iglesias will later say of ACVR and similar organizations: “I hope the media keeps shining the spotlight on groups like the American Center for Voting Rights, the ACVR, who has been engaging in this type of voter suppression actions, especially targeting elderly people and minorities. And I mean, if you’re an American citizen who is not a felon, you have the right to vote.” [Democracy Now!, 6/4/2008] Miers will later testify that she has a vague recollection that she believed there was another explanation besides voter fraud for Rove’s “more voters than people on the registration list” characterization. She will recall hearing from the Justice Department “[t]hat the voting precinct in the county lines didn’t match. So in fact, there were instances where it really could be people voting in larger numbers than actually was the county population.” She will say that she believes she learned this from Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, but will not state this with certainty. “[I]t may be that it came from Bill Kelley,” she will say, referring to her deputy William Kelley. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Chris Lato, Steven M. Biskupic, William Kelley, Brian Lunde, American Center for Voting Rights, Rick Wiley, American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund, Wisconsin Republican Party, Mark (“Thor”) Hearne, Dan Bartlett, David C. Iglesias, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Paul J. McNulty, Harriet E. Miers, Karl C. Rove, House Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Justice Department official Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003), now the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005) as well as the Special Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, sends an email to Gonzales’s successor, senior White House counsel Harriet Miers. Sampson is responding to a late February request for recommendations for firing US Attorneys in case the White House decides to ask for resignations from a “subset” of those officials (see February 24, 2005 and After). In the email, Sampson ranks all 93 US Attorneys, using a set of three broad criteria. Strong performers exhibit “loyalty to the president and attorney general” (see January 9, 2005). Poor performers are, he writes, “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.” A third group is not rated at all. US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001, 2002 and November 14-18, 2005 ) and Kevin Ryan of the Northern District of California (see August 2, 2002) appear on the list as “recommended retaining.” Gonzales has approved the idea of firing some of the US Attorneys.
Denoted for Firing - US Attorneys listed for possible firing are: David York of the Southern District of Alabama; H.E. “Bud” Cummins of the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002); Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002); Greg Miller of the Northern District of Florida; David Huber of the Western District of Kentucky; Margaret Chiara of the Western District of Michigan (see November 2, 2001); Jim Greenlee of the Northern District of Mississippi; Dunn O. Lampton of the Southern District of Mississippi; Anna Mills S. Wagoner of the Middle District of North Carolina; John McKay of the Western District of Washington state (see October 24, 2001, Late October 2001 - March 2002, and January 4, 2005); Kasey Warner of the Southern District of West Virginia; and Paula Silsby of Maine. Sampson sends a revised listing later this evening with two more names indicated for possible firing: Thomas B. Heffelfinger of Minnesota and Steven Biskupic of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Sampson says he based his choices on his own personal judgments formed during his work at the White House and the Justice Department, and on input he received from other Justice Department officials. He will later testify that he cannot recall what any specific official told him about any specific US Attorney. He will call this list a “quick and dirty” compilation and a “preliminary list” that would be subject to “further vetting… down the road” from department leaders. [US Department of Justice, 2005 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 2/15/2005; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; US Department of Justice, 3/13/2007 pdf file; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Days later, a Federalist Society lawyer will email Mary Beth Buchanan, the director of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, with a recommendation for Lam’s replacement (see March 7, 2005).
Later Recollections - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Gonzales will tell investigators that he supported the concept of evaluating the US Attorneys’ performance to see “where we could do better.” Gonzales will say that he instructed Sampson to consult with the senior leadership of the Justice Department, obtain a consensus recommendation as to which US Attorneys should be removed, and coordinate with the White House on the process. Gonzales will say that he never discussed with Sampson how to evaluate US Attorneys or what factors to consider when discussing with department leaders which US Attorneys should be removed. Sampson will say that he did not share the list with Gonzales or any other department officials, but will say he believes he briefed Gonzales on it. Gonzales will say he recalls no such briefing, nor does he recall ever seeing the list. Then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey and then-Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis will tell OIG investigators about their discussions with Sampson. Comey will recall telling Sampson on February 28, 2005 that he felt Ryan and Lampton belonged in the “weak” category, and will say he may have denoted Heffelfinger and another US Attorney, David O’Meilia, as “weak” performers. Comey will say that he was not aware of Sampson’s work with the White House in compiling a list of US Attorneys to be removed. He will say that he considered his conversation with Sampson “casual” and that Sampson “offhandedly” raised the subject with him. Margolis will recall speaking briefly with Sampson about “weak” performers among the US Attorneys in late 2004 or early 2005, but recall little about the conversation. He will remember that Sampson told him about Miers’s idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004), and agreed with Sampson that such a move would be unwise. Margolis will recall Sampson viewing Miers’s idea as a way to replace some US Attorneys for President Bush’s second term, an idea Margolis will say he endorsed. He was not aware that political considerations may be used to compile a list of potential firings. He will recall looking at a list Sampson had of all 93 Attorneys. He will remember citing Ryan and Lampton as poor performers, as well as Chiara. He will remember saying that eight other US Attorneys might warrant replacement. Sampson will tell OIG investigators that he received no immediate reaction from Miers to the list, and will say he did not remember discussing the basis for his recommendations with her. As for McKay, though Washington state Republicans are sending a steady stream of complaints to the White House concerning McKay’s alleged lack of interest in pursuing voter fraud allegations (see December 2004, Late 2004, Late 2004 or Early 2005, January 4, 2005, and January 4, 2005), Sampson will claim to be unaware of any of them and say he would not have used them as justification to advocate for McKay’s termination. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, Kevin Ryan, Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Margaret M. Chiara, Bush administration (43), Paula Silsby, Steven M. Biskupic, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, John L. McKay, Jim Greenlee, Mary Beth Buchanan, Harriet E. Miers, James B. Comey Jr., David C. Iglesias, D. Kyle Sampson, David Huber, David Margolis, Kasey Warner, David York, David O’Meilia, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Greg Miller, Dunn O. Lampton, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin state purchasing executive, is convicted of two felony charges of manipulating the bid process on a state travel contract, intending to “cause political advantage for her supervisors” (see October 19, 2005, October 2005, and January 24, 2006). The indictment said her actions “were intended to help her job security,” though it did not allege the existence of a so-called “pay to play” scheme that traded campaign donations for contracts. Thompson was charged with improperly steering a travel contract with the state, worth $750,000, to a travel firm whose executives made political donations to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI). She pled not guilty to the charges, and was not asked by prosecutors to take a deal in return for testifying about alleged improprieties by Doyle and other administration officials. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, said at the time: “They can squeeze all they want. There’s nothing to squeeze out.” Hurley called the charges against her “the most bizarre application of the statute I’ve ever seen.” US Attorney Steven Biskupic, a Bush administration appointee, is using the Thompson case to find evidence of criminal corruption within the Doyle administration. Thompson faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. Wisconsin Republicans have dubbed the affair “Travelgate,” and are using it to drub Doyle in campaign ads. Doyle is expected to face stiff competition from Republican challengers in the November 2006 election. During the trial, prosecutors did not allege that Thompson colluded with anyone in the Doyle administration to rig the contract process. Instead, they said Thompson carried out the improprieties on her own in order to curry favor with her superiors. Biskupic called her actions “politically motivated bid-rigging,” and said she inflated her scores for Adelman Travel in the bid assessment process “for private gain for herself and others” rather than using the criteria established by state law. Hurley called Biskupic’s logic “bizarre,” and noted that Thompson did not profit in any way from her alleged bid-rigging. In fact, Hurley said, her actions saved the state $27,000. Hurley said during the trial that she had no way of knowing about the campaign contributions, and her job did not depend on which company received the contract. Evidence presented during the trial showed that Adelman Travel was involved in setting the parameters for the contract awarding criteria months before being invited to take part in the bidding, though Thompson was not involved in those dealings. Thompson testified that she is not politically active and knew nothing of the politics behind the contract. She said she was not pressured to award Adelman Travel the contract. She said that she had a negative reaction to Adelman’s competitor for the contract, Omega World Travel, because unlike Adelman Travel, it was not a local firm, and she found Omega’s representatives “pushy, abrasive, and East Coast” in their manner. Through tears, she testified: “As a consumer, you can say, ‘Gee, I need a new refrigerator,’ look in the Sunday paper, see that there are refrigerators for sale, and say, ‘Okay, this is the one I want. This looks like the right price.’ You go in to buy it, and you don’t like the salesperson, so you don’t buy it. In state government, you can’t do that.” If you do, she said, the contract could be called into question. In his closing arguments, Biskupic called Thompson a liar, noting that her testimony in court was different in some aspects to statements she had given reporters. Doyle says after the conviction is issued: “It is clear that Georgia Thompson acted on her own and that no other state employee was involved.… As I have stated before, I have zero tolerance for ethical lapses in government. When public servants abuse the public’s trust, they forfeit their rights to continue in the state’s employ.” Doyle says that Thompson will likely be fired after a review is conducted. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 2/3/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/3/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/6/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/9/2006; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/13/2006] She will resign her position shortly after her conviction. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/5/2007]

Entity Tags: Adelman Travel, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Omega World Travel, Steven M. Biskupic, Stephen Hurley, Georgia Lee Thompson

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A federal court of appeals overturns the conviction of former Wisconsin government official Georgia Thompson, who was convicted of two felony counts of manipulating a state bidding process to favor a Wisconsin travel agency whose executives had made campaign donations to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI—see June 13, 2006). The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacates the conviction and orders Thompson released from jail (see September 22, 2006) immediately. US Attorney Steven Biskupic, who prosecuted Thompson, says he will most likely not appeal the decision. The three-judge panel finds Thompson was wrongfully convicted after oral arguments were presented by both Biskupic’s office and Thompson’s attorney, not waiting for written submissions. Judge Diane T. Wood called the evidence submitted by Biskupic “beyond thin,” telling prosecutors: “I have to say, in comparison to some of the cases this court has seen, that’s a pretty thin set of facts to show some sort of tight political relationship. Am I missing something?” Judge William Bauer wondered why others were not prosecuted, asking why, if prosecutors felt Doyle and others were complicit in the alleged crimes, only Thompson was left to “carr[y] the sack.” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook noted Adelman Travel had the lowest bid and assailed math used to score competing bids. “Because they flunked high school math doesn’t mean a felony was committed,” he said. Doyle, a former state attorney general, says the court did an “extraordinary thing” by entering an order finding Thompson innocent and ordering her immediate release. Decisions like this usually take weeks or months to be rendered. Doyle says Thompson did nothing wrong, calls her “an innocent woman who was used as a political football,” and says she deserves her job back and to be awarded back pay. “She was doing her job, and then she got caught up in all of this,” he says. Doyle defeated gubernatorial challenger Mark Green (R-WI) in the November 2006 elections; Green attempted to make the Thompson “Travelgate” affair a centerpiece of his campaign, and repeatedly accused Doyle and his administration of corruption. Thompson’s attorney, Stephen Hurley, argued in oral presentations that Thompson did not personally profit from the contract going to Adelman Travel, contending that her actions did not constitute “dishonest gain,” a criteria many courts have applied to corruption cases. Hurley says that as a result of her conviction, she lost “her job, her life savings, her home, and her liberty; and it cost Georgia her good name.… At sentencing, the government urged a longer period of incarceration because Georgia did not accept responsibility. Today, the government ought to accept responsibility for the consequences of its acts.” Wisconsin Republican Party director Mark Jefferson says Thompson’s exoneration means nothing, and the Doyle administration should still be investigated regarding the contract process. [Associated Press, 4/5/2007; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/5/2007] Wisconsin lawyer Chris Van Wagner later says of the appeals court’s decision: “That is more than a legal ruling; it’s a slap in the face. This, no question about it, is a major affront to the government in many ways. Most significantly, it said you should have never brought this case.… Two or three cases out of 100 are vacated. This case wasn’t just vacated and sent back for a retrial, but rather the judges ordered an acquittal.” [Christopher T. Van Wagner, 4/2007] Law professor Michael O’Hear agrees that the decision is unusual. “If this was a finding of insufficient evidence, what they’re saying is it’s unjust that Georgia Thompson has been in prison the last few months,” he says. [Wisconsin State Journal, 4/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Frank Easterbrook, Diane T. Wood, Adelman Travel, William Bauer, Steven M. Biskupic, Stephen Hurley, Michael O’Hear, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Georgia Lee Thompson, Mark Jefferson, Chris Van Wagner, Mark Andrew Green

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Critics say that the legal pursuit of former Wisconsin state purchasing official Georgia Thompson, whose conviction on corruption charges was overturned by a federal appeals court (see April 5, 2007), may have been politically motivated. State Representative David Travis (D-Westport) says Thompson was persecuted by US Attorney Steven Biskupic, a Bush administration appointee. “I think it’s right out of the Karl Rove playbook,” he says, referring to White House political chief Karl Rove. “I never thought I’d see a prosecution like this. That woman is innocent. He’s ruined her life.” Republicans used Thompson’s prosecution and conviction (see June 13, 2006) as a centerpiece of their attempt to thwart the re-election attempts of Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), who survived a 2006 challenge by Mark Green (R-WI), who accused Doyle of corruption throughout the campaign. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) calls on Congress to investigate the prosecution, saying the prosecution ties into Congress’s investigation into the firing of eight US Attorneys (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). “Congress should also look into whether partisan politics influenced, or even dictated, the investigations conducted by the US Attorneys’ offices in order to stay in the [Bush] administration’s good graces,” Baldwin says. “The 7th Circuit acquittal of Georgia Thompson, after a widely publicized pre-election prosecution, certainly raises serious questions about the integrity and motivation of the prosecutor.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asks Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to turn over all of the Justice Department’s records in the Georgia Thompson case to the committee, “including any communications between the Justice Department, the White House, and any other outside party, including party officials.” Leahy, joined by Wisconsin’s two senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Russell Feingold (D-WI), also asks Gonzales to turn over records related to voter fraud investigations in Wisconsin (see Early 2005) and any records pertaining to Biskupic’s possible firing. Wisconsin Democrats have long considered Thompson’s prosecution an attempt to besmirch Doyle before the 2006 election, and have accused Biskupic of mounting a politically motivated pursuit of an innocent government official. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007] Feingold says in a statement that Thompson was the victim of a “miscarriage of justice,” and adds, “In light of ongoing concerns about the politicization of US Attorneys’ offices around the country, I am seeking further information from the Department of Justice on how this case and voter fraud cases after the 2004 election came about and whether there was improper political pressure to pursue them.” [Federal Document Clearing House, 4/10/2007]
Denials of Political Motivations - Biskupic’s First Assistant US Attorney (FAUSA) Michelle Jacobs says that the prosecution of Thompson was not politically motivated, and the office received no contact from the White House or the Justice Department. “They acted on the evidence as they found it, convinced a jury of 12 that there was criminal conduct, convinced a judge who has been sitting on a state and federal bench for 33 years that the verdict was sound,” Jacobs says. “But we just did not convince the court of appeals, and we’ll respect the court of appeals decision.” Andy Gussert, president of the state employees union AFT-Wisconsin, says Congress should look into the Thompson case because servants should “not become political footballs to be kicked around.” He adds: “This prosecution raises additional questions that resonate with concerns about the recent firings of US Attorneys. If people are to have faith in our judicial system, those questions will need answers.” Former State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who was involved in the Thompson investigation, says the investigation was not politically motivated. Lautenschlager is a Democrat, but is considered a political enemy of Doyle’s.
Thompson Nearly Destitute - Thompson’s lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says Thompson has been left almost entirely penniless by the case. She lost her $77,300-a-year state job, about $60,000 in back wages, and owes somewhere between $250,000 and $400,000 in legal fees. She was forced to cash in her state pension and sell her $264,700 condominium, which she had paid off entirely. Travis says the federal government should pay her lost wages and legal costs, and compensate her for her time in prison. State officials say they are prepared to offer Thompson her old job or a similar position at the same salary, and are investigating whether they can reimburse her back wages and pay her legal bills. Thompson says she does not want her old job back, but would like another job in the same division. She is very concerned with staying out of the public spotlight. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007]
Biskupic Considered for Firing - Unbeknownst to Congress or the press, Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of people to be fired. Biskupic himself will soon claim that he did not prosecute Thompson for political purposes (see April 14, 2007).

Entity Tags: David Travis, Andy Gussert, Tammy Baldwin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Stephen Hurley, Russell D. Feingold, Steven M. Biskupic, Patrick J. Leahy, Herbert Kohl, Georgia Lee Thompson, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Michelle Jacobs, Karl C. Rove, Peg Lautenschlager, Mark Andrew Green

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

An editorial by Adam Cohen in the New York Times concurs that Wisconsin state employee Georgia Thompson was the victim of a politically motivated prosecution. Thompson’s conviction on corruption charges was recently overturned (see April 5, 2007), and critics are now alleging that state Republicans used the Thompson case to help defeat incumbent Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), who defeated a Republican challenger in November 2006 (see April 7-10, 2007). “The entire affair is raising serious questions about why a United States Attorney put an innocent woman in jail,” Cohen writes. Cohen implies that US Attorney Steven Biskupic of Wisconsin may have pursued the Thompson allegations in order to avoid being fired in the 2006 US Attorney purge (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). “Members of Congress should ask whether it was by coincidence or design that [Biskupic] turned a flimsy case into a campaign issue that nearly helped Republicans win a pivotal governor’s race,” he writes. The appeals court that overturned Thompson’s conviction was “shocked,” Cohen writes, at the lack of evidence against Thompson. Moreover, Biskupic, the US Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin, took over the case even though it originated in Madison, in the Western District. And he spoke to reporters about the investigation, in apparent defiance of Justice Department guidelines saying federal prosecutors can publicly discuss investigations before an indictment only under extraordinary circumstances. Cohen says the scheduling of the prosecution “worked out perfectly for the Republican candidate for governor. Mr. Biskupic announced Ms. Thompson’s indictment in January 2006. She went to trial that summer, and was sentenced in late September, weeks before the election.” While Biskupic has denied that the timing of the prosecution was “tied to the political calendar,” it was, says Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Joe Wineke, “the No. 1 issue” in the governor’s race. Cohen then writes: “Most of the eight dismissed prosecutors came from swing states, and Democrats suspect they may have been purged to make room for prosecutors who would help Republicans win close elections. If so, it might also mean that United States Attorneys in all swing states were under unusual pressure. Wisconsin may be the closest swing state of all.” President Bush lost Wisconsin by a vanishingly small margin of 12,000 votes in 2004, and by an even narrower margin in 2000. Wisconsin politicians say that Karl Rove, the White House’s political chief, told them Wisconsin was his highest priority, because he believed that having a Republican win the 2006 gubernatorial race would help Republicans win in the 2008 presidential election. Cohen concludes by pointing out the irony of one element of the prosecution: Biskupic charged that Thompson committed the alleged crime to obtain “political advantage for her superiors” and to improve her own “job security.” Cohen writes, “Those motivations, of course, may well describe why Mr. Biskupic prosecuted Ms. Thompson. [New York Times, 4/16/2007]
Biskupic Considered for Firing - Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of attorneys under consideration for removal.

Entity Tags: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Adam Cohen, Georgia Lee Thompson, Karl C. Rove, Steven M. Biskupic, Joe Wineke, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US Justice Department official Craig Donsanto, the director of the election crimes branch, sends an email to a colleague expressing his incredulity that the US Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin, Steven Biskupic, brought a case against Wisconsin procurement official Georgia Thompson. Thompson was released in April by an appeals court which overturned her conviction and found that Biskupic’s prosecution was based on extraordinarily sketchy evidence (see April 5, 2007). Many critics now believe that the case was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007). “Bad facts make bad law. How in heck did this case get brought?” Donsanto writes in an email to Justice Department official Raymond Hulser. The press will not report on Donsanto’s consternation until September 2007, when it will be turned over to the House Judiciary Committee, involved in an investigation of the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006). Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) will say in a statement: “This email demonstrates that even Justice Department insiders thought the Thompson case was seriously flawed. This only underscores the need for further investigation into the administration’s alleged role in politicizing prosecutions.” Biskupic was once named on a list of US Attorneys to be fired (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will later testify that he does not know why Biskupic was considered for removal or why he was taken off the list. [Associated Press, 9/6/2007]

Entity Tags: John Conyers, Alberto R. Gonzales, Craig Donsanto, House Judiciary Committee, Raymond Hulser, US Department of Justice, Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Wisconsin procurement officer Georgia Thompson, wrongly convicted of corruption in 2006 (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) and freed by an appeals court in 2007 (see April 5, 2007) amid speculation that her prosecution was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007), was pressured by federal prosecutors to turn on high-ranking Democrats in Wisconsin state government, according to officials involved in the case. In return, prosecutors promised leniency or dropping the charges in their entirety. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says prosecutors wanted her to testify against Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), the then-Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, and other elected officials. The pressure came from US Attorney Steven Biskupic and others in his office, according to Hurley and co-counsel Marcus Berghahn. “I began to get the impression that the indictment was being used to squeeze her,” says Hurley, saying that these attempts continued even after Thompson’s sentencing (see September 22, 2006), with offers to seek a reduced sentence if Thompson produced evidence that Doyle or others in his administration had broken the law. Hurley, who has been a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years, says: “It was the only time in my career that, after the person was sentenced, the prosecutor has called to renew the discussion. I’ve never had that happen before.” Reporter Bill Lueders writes, “These offers, though not necessarily indicative of improper conduct, suggest that Biskupic and his staff prosecuted Thompson as part of a larger agenda, with potential political overtones.” Biskupic has denied any political motivations behind the prosecution (see April 14, 2007) and refuses to discuss any plea offers with Lueders. Former Dane County assistant district attorney John Burr, a past president of the Association of State Prosecutors, says of Biskupic’s plea offers: “You can’t tell me it was not politically motivated. The powers that be over there thought they were going to go all the way to the governor.” Biskupic’s office, says Burr, prosecuted Thompson to get to Doyle and others. And, “[w]hen they didn’t find anything, they were stuck with it. It blew up in their faces.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green (R-WI) used the Thompson prosecution as the centerpiece of his campaign against Doyle in the 2006 elections, accusing Doyle of running a corrupt administration. Doyle defeated Green in the election. Many have speculated that the case can be tied to the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006), with Biskupic pursuing the Thompson case to curry favor with the Bush administration and keep himself from being fired. Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of those being considered for firing. Biskupic insisted throughout the prosecution that the case was entirely about Thompson, and not about Doyle or other elected officials, but in his closing arguments, he cited Doyle, Marotta, and others as “players” in the affair, saying: “She’s the link. She’s the one who made this happen. What a terrible coincidence for her that she is in the middle of all this.” One juror later said that “nobody in the jury room had any doubt whatsoever” that Doyle and others were involved, though there is no evidence to support such a conclusion. Former US Attorney Frank Tuerkheimer says there is nothing untoward or unusual about Biskupic trying to “flip” Thompson to get information about higher-ups. “In principle, there is nothing wrong with it,” he says. “There’s no question in my mind that Biskupic was after Thompson to get higher-ups.” The problem was, Tuerkheimer adds, that “Biskupic had a theory of criminality that was ridiculous”—that Thompson was acting at others’ behest. “It just bothers you ‘cause the woman got screwed.” Tuerkheimer notes that Biskupic had Thompson jailed pending her appeal, which was unusual for such a case. She had no criminal history, was not a flight risk, and had a legitimate case for appeal. Most people in her position would have been allowed to stay out of jail pending the appeal. Why did Biskupic insist on having her jailed? Tuerkheimer replies, “It appeared to me that they were trying to pressure her to talk.” [Madison Isthmus, 5/18/2007] Doyle says he is alarmed by the reports that Biskupic and others tried to pressure Thompson into testifying against members of his administration. “The story is pretty alarming, particularly given that she had testified under oath that nobody had ever asked her to do anything inappropriately,” Doyle says. “Even after… testifying under oath they were still trying to get her to give information that just wasn’t true.” Doyle refuses to say directly that the prosecution was politically motivated, but asks rhetorically, “Does anybody really think that Georgia Thompson, if it hadn’t been an election year, that this would have ever happened to her?” Biskupic’s chief assistant Michelle Jacobs denies that the prosecution had any political components to it, saying: “We would never, and have never, encouraged a defendant to lie to us. To suggest that it is somehow untoward or unusual to approach a post-trial defendant, even a defendant who has testified, about cooperating with us, it’s just not unusual.” [Associated Press, 5/18/2007]

Entity Tags: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Bush administration (43), Bill Lueders, Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic, Mark Andrew Green, Michelle Jacobs, Marc Marotta, John Burr, Frank Tuerkheimer, Stephen Hurley, Marcus Berghahn

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department is investigating four cases of alleged selective prosecution, including the prosecution and overturned conviction of Wisconsin government official Georgia Thompson by former US Attorney Steven Biskupic (see April 5, 2007). The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) informs the House Judiciary Committee of the investigations, in a letter signed by OPR chief H. Marshall Jarrett. Since Thompson’s conviction was overturned over a year ago, her prosecution has been widely criticized as giving the appearance of being politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007). Committee members John Conyers (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Linda Sanchez (D-CA) are spearheading the committee’s probe into the Thompson prosecution. Many suspect that Biskupic prosecuted Thompson in order to avoid being fired in the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006). Biskupic has denied knowing he was being considered for termination before he opened his prosecution of Thompson (see March 2, 2005), though he has also admitted to learning about being on the “purge” list after the fact (see April 14, 2007). After he opened that investigation, his name disappeared from the list. [WisPolitics Courtwatch Blog, 5/23/2008; Capital Times, 5/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Office of Professional Responsibility, Georgia Lee Thompson, H. Marshall Jarrett, Linda Sanchez, Tammy Baldwin, John Conyers, US Department of Justice, Steven M. Biskupic

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former US Attorney Steven Biskupic is cleared of any wrongdoing in his failed prosecution of Wisconsin government official Georgia Thompson. Since Thompson’s conviction was overturned in 2007 (see April 5, 2007), her prosecution has been widely criticized as giving the appearance of being politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007). Biskupic left his position in 2008 and is now in private practice at a Milwaukee law firm. In 2008, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) was investigating Biskupic and his prosecution of Thompson (see May 5, 2008). OPR reports that it “found no evidence that Mr. Biskupic was ever told his job was in jeopardy and no evidence that department personnel involved in the decision to remove certain United States Attorneys knew anything about the Thompson investigation.” The information is given to the House Judiciary Committee by Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch. The committee had requested the investigation into Biskupic. “OPR also found that Mr. Biskupic took special measures to ensure that politics did not play a role in the case by enlisting the support and assistance of state officials who were Democrats, including using state investigative resources,” Welch adds. “Accordingly, OPR concluded that Mr. Biskupic did not breach any professional obligation in this matter, but rather, acted appropriately under the circumstances.” Biskupic says: “I’ll let the letter speak for itself.… I spent almost 20 years in the department. I remain proud of the work I did under multiple administrations.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/28/2010; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 5/28/2010] After the OPR releases its findings, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel publishes an editorial praising the findings and saying that Biskupic’s integrity “should [never] have been in doubt.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/1/2010]

Entity Tags: Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic, Office of Professional Responsibility, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Ronald Welch

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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