October 23rd, 2007
08:30 PM ET
7 years ago

Thornburgh: Justice department engaged in political prosecution

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Former attorney general and prominent Republican Richard Thornburgh Tuesday accused the Justice Department of an improper political prosecution in indicting one of his clients, who was then a local Democratic official in Pittsburgh.

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Thornburgh was praised by Democrats and criticized by fellow Republicans when he told the panel that Cyril Wecht, the former elected Allegheny County coroner, was indicted by a federal prosecutor whom he believed was "trying to curry favor" with the Bush Administration.

A grand jury indicted Wecht in 2006 on 84 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and theft. The prosecution in the case accused him of cheating the citizens of Allegheny County and the clients of his private forensics firm.

Thornburgh, who served as attorney general under the first President Bush, raised broader doubts about the fairness of the Justice Department, saying the department must act "without actual political influence or the appearance of political influence."

"Unfortunately, that may no longer be the case," Thornburgh said.

The claim was lauded by Democrats who called the hearing to focus attention on what they assert is a pattern of selective prosecutions aimed squarely at Democrats.

"Today we heard compelling testimony from a Republican former attorney general of the United States describing his deep concern that the Deaprtment of Justice has misused its prosecutorial powers for political purposes," said Chairman John Conyers, D-Michigan.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-California, praised Thornburgh as "an honest conservative" who was "trying to save the country."

But Thornburgh's assertion brought stinging criticism from Republicans.

"Your testimony to be blunt is the most pathetic example of hearsay and innuendo. It is totally ridiculous," said Rep. Ric Keller, R-Florida.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, told Thornburgh his advocacy for his paid client could damage the entire Justice Department.

"I would certainly hope not," Thornburgh replied.

The Justice Department issued a statement rejecting the charge and listing several prominent Republicans who have been prosecuted.

"It has been and remains the practice of the department to investigate and prosecute individuals who violate federal law without regard to their poltical affiliation," the statement said.

In Pittsburgh, U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, who brought indictment against Wecht, blasted Thornburgh and Wecht's defense team for taking their grievance to a public forum rather than into court.

"For whatever reason, they have refrained choosing instead to air it in a forum where they know the government lawyers cannot respond and where there is no member of the judiciary to consider and decide the matter," Buchanan said.

The case against Wecht is scheduled to go to trial in Pittsburgh in January.

– CNN Justice Producer Terry Frieden


Filed under: Uncategorized
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. DIANA, RANCHO MIRAGE CA

    THE DISGUSTING PART OF THIS REPUBLICAN/DEMOCRAT PROBLEM IS THAT NO MATTER WHAT THE REPUBLICANS CAN REFER TO INNUENDOS,OR ACTUAL EVENTS THAT MAY HAVE TAKEN PLACE ON THE DEMOCRATIC SIDE AS FAR BACK AS MAN GOES. "GEE I WONDER IF EVE WAS A DEMOCRAT"? WOULD THAT MAKE THE SNAKE A REPUBLICAN". THIS IS JUST THE SAME JUVENILE ANTICS MY SIBLINGS AND MYSELF PULLED WHEN YOUNG. GOSH MOM SUSAN DID IT FIRST.
    FROM A STAUNCH INDEPENDENT. "GROW UP"

    October 23, 2007 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  2. DIANA, RANCHO MIRAGE CA

    " HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO HAVE A COMMENT APPROVED??????? CENSOR, CENSOR, CENSOR.

    October 23, 2007 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  3. Brian, Orlando, Florida

    Is America really a fair place, nooooo its Republicanism all the way

    October 23, 2007 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  4. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    The blowhard Repellicans who questioned the integrity of Dick Thornburgh can't hold a candle to him as lawyers or public officials, and should be regarded as apologists for one of the most corrupt AGs ever who was nudged from office only after he became an unacceptable liability to a President whose cronyism and contempt for law are legendary.

    October 23, 2007 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  5. Ivan, Chicago, Illinois

    This is what you get we it comes out that Bush was trying to politicize the U.S. Justice Department. People will question the integrity and independence of the Justice Department.

    October 24, 2007 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  6. James, Phoenix AZ

    Former attorney general and prominent Republican Richard Thornburgh Tuesday accused the Justice Department of an improper political prosecution in indicting one of his clients.

    --

    Is there EVER a defense attorney (regardless of political affiliation) that DOESN'T cry foul on behalf of their client??

    How about instead of trying this case in the media and blogs – we wait to hear the evidence and the verdict from the jury. Gosh – wouldnt that be a nice departure from the usual??

    October 24, 2007 01:20 am at 1:20 am |
  7. Antonio, Tempe AZ

    Quote from a different article

    "In September 2006, just weeks before pivotal Congressional midterm elections, Paul Charlton, US Attorney for Arizona, opened a preliminary investigation into Republican Representative Rick Renzi of the state's First Congressional District for an alleged pattern of corruption involving influence-peddling and land deals. Almost immediately, Charlton's name was added to a blacklist of federal prosecutors the White House wanted to force from their jobs."

    http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070402/blumenthal

    I don't know the specifics of Thornburgh's case but if true, he's not the first honest life long republican lawyer to get burned by this Adminstration's Justice Department.

    I spend a lot of time in San Diego and have read up on Carol Lam, our US Attorney who was fired for investigating other (republican) politicians' connections to the corruption that claimed Duke Cunningham. The DoJ claim that she wasn't prosecuting illegal immigration cases is laughable considering that they wrote Diane Feinstein a letter (link http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/docs/doj-lam/?resultpage=1&) speaking positively about Carol's prosecution of illegal immigrants three and a half months before asking for her resignation.

    October 24, 2007 04:03 am at 4:03 am |
  8. Karen,nj

    I personally would not trust anyone that worked under either Bush. These "people" always seem to get away with eveything, I am tired of that. Yet, regular people can call other people a name and then they have to waste their time arguing with some old judge on a trumped up harrassment charge. Even our justice system is broken down.

    October 24, 2007 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  9. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    Some of the U.S. Attorney prosecutions have been suspect as well as those that were fired. It is not beyond the realm of possiblities since there has been much made in the hiring, firing and what cases to prosecute. Alberto Gonzales didn't disclose anything, so it isn't surprising that cronism and loyalty over the law shouldn't surprise anyone. These attorneries should prosecute solely on the basis of the case.

    October 24, 2007 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  10. spinstopper

    Client charged with:
    84 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and theft. Accused of cheating the citizens of Allegheny County and clients of his private forensics firm.

    Man's Lawyer:
    argues corruption in a forum where the government cannot respond and where there is no member of the judiciary to consider and decide the matter.

    Soon to be result:
    Man convicted and sent to jail. CNN finds another senseless avenue to attack Bush.

    October 24, 2007 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  11. Antonio, Tempe AZ

    spinstopper -

    the point isn't whether or not this lawyer's client is guilty (i don't think anyone here knows the details). it's the fact that lawyers can even argue that a DoJ prosecution is politically motivated. a few years ago the DoJ was beyond reproach and now there are documented cases of the Whitehouse punishing US attorneys that don't act in a partisan manner.

    the sad part is that neocons like you are selling out lifelong, movement conservatives (like Charlton who i have a great deal of respect for) that have the integrity to lead the party into the future to protect a failed president that will be widely remember as worse than Nixon.

    October 24, 2007 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  12. Chris, Middletown, CT

    Spinstopper
    When you give them facts it must be like when the Branch Davidians would start to question their cult leaders teachings....but in the end....I guess it all worked out for them....

    October 24, 2007 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  13. Mark. Shreveport, LA

    How many innocent people were prosecuted?

    I think the Judiciary committee should be investigated for using their power in trying to tear down the GOP leading up to the 2008 elections.
    This is nothing but the democrats trying to enhance their chances in '08 in the house and senate.

    October 24, 2007 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  14. Pickles, Monaca, PA

    In a former life, Thornburg was on the board of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the ACLU.

    I respect civil liberties (not always the ACLU, though, with whom I disagree more often than I agree). He sold out with Bush I, so we were delighted when he lost his bid for the Senate a year or two before Bush I lost his bid for a second term.

    October 24, 2007 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  15. DisgustedVoter

    More partisan politics. Is there any surprise that this is what our pitiful 110th Congress is spending its time on...

    Great job there Mike McCurry, we're really getting the accomplishment message now..

    October 24, 2007 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  16. JC Topeka, KS

    A former attorney general and prominent Republican testifies before Congress that the Justice Department has been used for political procesution. He's not to be belived because he is a praticing lawyer defending a Democrate, wasn't there something about justice being blind.

    Here we have a former attorney general of the United States, a Republican testifying before Congress being basically called a liar by Republican members of Congress.

    He apparently was asked his personnal opinion, and while I do not agree with him using an on going case that he is involved in, in his discussion, I can not fault him for his testomony.

    The problem you see is two fold, first and most difficult to prove is have politics been introduced into the Department of Justice and the prosecution of cases? I doubt if we ever get to the bottom of it.

    Secondly, however, is the preception that politics have been introduced in to the prosecution of cases. This is just as and perhaps more damaging, it takes away the trust that Americans must have in the Justice System.

    But more disturbing is that a Democratic Congress calls a former Republican Attorney General to testify and the Republican members of Congress seem to have a major problem with the answers he gave to Congress.

    October 24, 2007 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  17. Richard,Orlando,FL

    DIANA, RANCHO MIRAGE CA
    If you were an independent you would have an unbiased view. All you really have to do is educate yourself. The only logical conclusion is this administration has politicized every department it possibly can. Instead of showing your bias–READ,READ,READ. Some day you will apreciate that advice.

    October 24, 2007 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |

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