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Linder Letter: Politicians and Abuse of Power

Government

The drama unfolding in New Jersey is far from new.

In this Jan. 9, 2014, photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) AP Photo/Mel Evans

You are going to hear a lot about abuse of power in the next weeks and months.

Last Thursday New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced that he had ended his relationship with his top political advisor and fired a top aide. He said that they lied to him about a traffic jam that had been engineered at Fort Lee, N.J. during his last campaign.

A New Jersey legislative committee is holding hearings and its chairman has already determined that impeachment is on the table. On Friday, the Federal Attorney for New Jersey, Paul Fishman, announced that he would review the matter.

In this Jan. 9, 2014, photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during a news conference at the Statehouse in Trenton, N.J. Christie has fired a top aide who engineered political payback against a town mayor, saying she lied. Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly is the latest casualty in a widening scandal that threatens to upend Christie's second term and likely run for president in 2016. Documents show she arranged traffic jams to punish the mayor, who didn't endorse Christie for re-election. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) 

This will not be the first time that prosecutors have weighed in on politics.

In 1992 Kay Bailey Hutchison was elected to the United States Senate from Texas. Six months later her offices in the State Treasury were raided by Travis County district attorney, Ronnie Earle. She was accused of discussing her Senate race on state phones and indicted for official misconduct and record tampering. The case was ultimately abandoned because the evidence was obtained without a warrant. Sen. Hutchison paid thousands of dollars in legal fees. The district attorney moved on.

Six months after President Bill Clinton was inaugurated, longtime friend and White House Aide, Vince Foster committed suicide. Questions surrounding it and a small real estate investment caused the appointment of Independent Council, Ken Starr. Forty million dollars later, Starr reported that the president lied under oath about an extramarital affair. The Republican House impeached President Clinton for perjury. Starr went on to lead a major university.

In June 2003, in a Bob Novak column, it was reported that Valerie Plame, a CIA employee, was responsible for sending her husband to Niger to investigate whether terrorists were buying uranium.

Valerie Plame Wilson told a House panel in March 2007 that she felt betrayed by officials who failed to protect her identity. (Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

It is a felony to expose a covert agent and Patrick Fitzgerald, a prosecutor from Chicago, was appointed to investigate who leaked her name. Before the investigation was formally opened, Fitzgerald knew that the leaker was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Armitage disclosed it himself. That did not stop this intrepid prosecutor from launching a fishing expedition to find something on somebody.

Two years later Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was indicted for perjury. His recollection of a phone conversation with NBC’s Tim Russert differed from Russert’s recollection. Fitzgerald convinced the grand jury to indict Libby for lying.

In March 2007 Libby was tried, found guilty and sentenced to a $250,000 fine and 30 months in prison. President George W. Bush commuted his prison sentence, but Libby lost his license to practice law. Fitzgerald got a notch in his belt and is now a partner with a blue-chip law firm.

Re-enter, stage left, Ronnie Earle from the People’s Republic of Austin. He accused Tom DeLay, the Republican Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives of breaking campaign finance laws.

DeLay had raised some corporate contributions, which could not be used in state elections, and traded it with the Republican National Committee for individual contributions, which could be used, something that has been done by both parties for years. Earle argued his case before three grand juries before he finally got an indictment of DeLay for money laundering.

DeLay was convicted in November 2010 and sentenced to 3 years in prison. Three years and millions of dollars in legal fees later an appeals court threw out the conviction. DeLay is broke and still in debt to his attorneys. Ronnie Earle is retired on a government pension.

These investigations are often pre-ordained. The Federal Attorney investigating Gov. Christie is a long time Democrat contributor. He has an unlimited budget and unrestrained authority and I feel certain that he will be able to keep Christie too busy to run an effective presidential campaign.

The media is enthusiastically on board. There were 44 times more television stories on this traffic matter in its first 48 hours than has been given to the IRS abuses in the last six months.

Speaking of the IRS, by the way, eight months after the abuse was disclosed, an investigator has just been appointed. She is a major contributor to President Obama’s campaigns as well as the Democrat National Committee. The FBI has said that there will be no criminal charges. All of this, of course, is in the pursuit of good government. It always is.

The next time you hear charges of abuse of power remember that executive power is not the only power that is abused.

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