FAIR PLAY / SUBSTANTIAL JUSTICE

more on blagojevich: can the DOJ spin it any harder?

Posted in Uncategorized by Ryan Locke on December 27, 2008

Earlier I wrote about how the Blagojevich indictment wasn’t getting much journalistic play as compared to the Madoff Ponzi scheme.  Well, it wasn’t for a lack of trying from the Department of Justice.  U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is hyping this indictment so hard it’s like he has Nancy Grace on staff, furiously inventing new ways to express shock and outrage.

Here are some of his best efforts from the original press conference announcing the indictment:

Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low. Governor Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree….Blagojevich and others were working feverishly to get as much money from contractors, shaking them down, pay to play, before the end of the year….At the end of the day, the conduct we have before us is appalling….

Then Special Agent Rob Grant from the FBI gets a turn at the podium:

If it isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s certainly one hell of a competitor….the FBI agents that participated in this wiretap investigation, were thoroughly disgusted and revolted by what they heard, and I think even the most cynical agents in our office were shocked….

So, can a U.S. Attorney just shoot from the hip at a press conference?  Not surprisingly, the DOJ has rules about this.  In the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, there’s an entire section devoted to press relations.  The rule applicable here is USAM 1-7.550, concerns of prejudice.

Because the release of certain types of information could tend to prejudice an adjudicative proceeding, Department personnel should refrain from making available the following:

A.  Observations about the defendant’s character;

E.  Statements concerning evidence or argument in the case, whether or not it is anticipated that such evidence or argument will be used at trial;

F.  Any opinion as to the defendant’s guilt, or the possibility of a plea of guilty to the offense charged, or the possibility of a plea of a lesser offense.

Whoops!  I guess Fitzgerald and Grant shouldn’t have said all those highly prejudicial comments that clearly violate this rule.

Why did they do it?

  1. Strategy. Maybe Blagojevich will plea early if the DOJ can completely destroy his future political career.
  2. Spin. Maybe the DOJ is hiding something behind all the bluster and puffery — maybe their case isn’t as airtight as they’d like us to believe?
  3. For fun. On the eve of a new administration, who’s going to punish Fitzgerald for playing a little too fast and loose with the USAM?  Maybe Fitzgerald wanted to play to the crowd a little bit and enjoy his moment in the spotlight.
  4. Outrage. Maybe Blagojevich’s conduct was so outrageous that Fitzgerald was just like, forget this, I’m gonna tell Illinois exactly what I think.

In any event, it certainly makes it more difficult for the next U.S. Attorney who holds a press conference and says he’s only allowed to stick to the facts.

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