05/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Justice Department Turns the Table on Political Prosecutions

Republican Senator Ted Stevens never should have been prosecuted in 2008. My bet is that most experienced prosecutors who reviewed the facts of that case would have reached the same conclusion. Stevens was a political target, plain and simple. Worse yet, the Federal Judge listening to the facts of that case was just as culpable of abusing democracy as the prosecutorial henchmen who targeted Stevens. Judge Emmett Sullivan did not go far enough when he held several rabidly overzealous Justice Department lawyers in contempt for their prosecutorial misconduct against Stevens. Sullivan should have ordered an acquittal of Stevens and sought indictments against those prosecutors for obstruction of justice. Last week, Eric Holder, the new Obama-appointed Attorney General, took his first step toward cleaning house in the Justice Department. He directed the Justice Department to dismiss their case against Stevens and acknowledged that prosecutors had abused their power by withholding evidence in that case. Traditional media has done a pitiful job covering the many political prosecution stories that occurred during the John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales years. You might remember Ashcroft was appointed to the position of Attorney General by the GOP after Ashcroft had actually lost an election against a dead candidate in a Missouri senatorial race. That gives you a glimpse into the caliber of his qualifications.

But two areas where the qualifications of Ashcroft and Gonzales flourished was their ability to attract like-minded political operatives to the Justice Department and then turn them loose on political targets.

Between 2001 and 2006, the Bush Justice Department targeted 375 political candidates and elected public officials. If those politicos were Democrats, they were 7 times as likely to be targeted by the Attorney General's pack of prosecutor wolves.

Political prosecutorial misconduct typically undermines democracy and that alone makes for a sad story. But the tragedy that always develops in the lives of people who become political targets is usually wretched.

For example, a man by the name of Paul Minor was regarded as one of the most effective Democratic fund raisers in Mississippi. Today, he sits in a federal prison even after a jury initially determined that there was not enough evidence to conclude that he had ever committed a crime. The first jury was hung, but with a Herculean effort by politically motivated prosecutors, the government got a conviction on their second try. The limitless power and resources devoted to political prosecutions can be daunting. My prediction is that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will reverse this conviction, but in the meantime, Paul will have sat in prison for several years. Also, it is doubtful that his wife of 41 years will spend her last days with Paul. She is now in her final stages of terminal brain cancer. To shed light on just how capricious politically motivated prosecutors can be, Paul made a request to spend a few days with his wife before her imminent death. The Washington prosecutors involved in the case denied him even that right. No matter though, Paul's life is ruined the same way Ted Stevens' life was ruined when politics mixes with unchecked prosecutorial power. Seedy politics won and democracy lost.