I admit--I'm getting sucked into the Geoffrey Fieger case. I will have more to say, but the short version is this:
The government alleges that Fieger and his partner got employees from their law firm to donate to John Edwards in his 2004 election. And then, the government further alleges, they reimbursed those people. From the government's perspective, Fieger laundered a lot of money to give big dollars to Edwards. From the perspective of this Administration's seeming pattern of politicized prosecutions, they went after Fieger (and other trial attorneys) to disincent trial lawyers from making political donations.
The big scandal (besides the possibility that BushCo is prosecuting Fieger as part of a political prosecution) is that it appears the government may be using tools designed for national security prosecutions in support of a campaign finance investigation--basically, Fieger alleges the government is abusing the tools Congress gave them to investigate terrorism in order to punish Democratic political activities. And he's trying to get the evidence to prove that case.
At present (Fieger's trial is due to start at the beginning of December), Fieger is dealing with four issues related to selective prosecutions.
- BushCo got a bunch of subpoenas for financial information--apparently under grand jury subpoena--without having to reveal those subpoenas; Fieger's team thinks they used National Security Letters or some other improper subpoena to get that information
- Bush's DOJ sent a small army of people to search Fieger's firm (and his employees' homes), serious overkill for a white collar crime investigation
- The top three people in the USA office in Eastern Michigan recused themselves from the case; Fieger's team thinks there's some hanky-panky behind the recusal
- The only investigation into campaign finance violations for the 2004 Edwards campaign that ended in a civil--as opposed to criminal--penalty was a lawyer in Arkansas--but the agreement was signed at the same time that Bud Cummins was fired, a coinkydink that Fieger alleges was the reason Cummins was fired
Here's the court's opinion summarizing the last three of these issues (look on page 1 for Judge Borman's description of three of four of these issues, he reviews these issues in camera before making the ruling on these three issues; he refuses to show Fieger the subpoenas in another order). On the issue of the army of FBI agents to investigate the firm, Borman allows Fieger to see dates of such overkill investigations, but not the names or details. On the issue of recusal, he orders the government into further discussion of the reasons behind the recusals. And on the issue of the one trial lawyer campaign finance investigation that did not end in criminal sanctions, Judge Borman refuses to provide the name to protect the innocent accused.
Here's the language Judge Borman uses to ask for further information from the government on the recusals of the top three people in E MI's USA office.
Finally, as to the Government request to seal the basis for the recusal of the three U.S.
Attorneys, the Court will conduct additional ex parte, in camera, on the record, discussion with the U.S. Attorney and the Justice Department attorney on this case, before ruling on that issue.
And here's Fieger's response.
This is not a case about national security, and the reasons for the recusal of Murphy, Tukel, and Berg do not bear any semblance of “national security” or “safety of witnesses or jurors.”
From all accounts, it appears that Murphy, Tukel, and Berg actively participated in this case for many months before secretly recusing themselves and allowing their agents to continue. If these gentlemen had any conflicts that prevented them from prosecuting this case (and seemingly they do), then that same conflict must be revealed. It makes no sense for the government to claim some sort of vague, undefined “compelling” secret interest that should allow them to continue keeping these secrets. If the government wished to indict Mr. Fieger, then they did so with all of the demons in their closet subject to open judicial scrutiny through the adversarial process.
Stephen Murphy is the USA for Eastern Michigan; Jonathan Tukel is the Senior Counsel to Murphy; Special Assistant USA Leslie Berg is another lawyer in the Eastern District Office. All three have recused themselves from this case, though they refuse to tell Fieger why. Frankly, I don't even know what he thinks is going on. But, as Fieger's team says, these attorneys were closely involved in the investigation. And then they recused themselves, without revealing what problem forced all three to recuse at once. Fieger is suggesting he has good reason to want to know why three people from the USA's office recused themselves part way into the investigation.
The Civil Settlement
Fieger also argues that he deserves to know the details of other Trial Attorneys investigated for campaign finance violations relating to John Edwards. Earlier, he asked if any other Edwards donor had been accused of campaign finance violations without a criminal referral. Upon learning there was one, Fieger makes the following argument, suggesting the answer actually strengthens his case.
This problem is further magnified by the government’s ex parte submission regarding “the identity of an individual Plaintiffs attorney who was investigated by the federal government but not prosecuted.” Mr. Fieger has reason to believe the government is referring to Tab Turner, an attorney from Arkansas who was also harassed by the Department of Justice based on his political support for John Edwards.
If Mr. Fieger’s suspicions are correct, the facts of the Tab Turner case actually strengthen Mr. Fieger’s claims of vindictive prosecution. For instance, it is believed that the United States Attorney for Arkansas, Bud Cummings, was fired because he refused to bring specious campaign finance charges against Mr. Turner. The Department of Justice, through Noel Hillman, figured they would just take Turner into Washington D.C. and indict him there since Cummings was unwilling. Shortly thereafter, Cummings was fired and replaced by a protégé of Karl Rove and Turner settled his case civilly with the Federal Election Commission. If Mr. Fieger is correct, then the Court has a duty to be informed of all of the facts surrounding the government’s ex parte submissions.
In other words, Fieger alleges, the sole case where an Edwards trial lawyer donor was investigated--but not charged criminally--happened within days of the time when Bud Cummins was fired and it happened in Cummins' district. Cummins was fired on June 5, 2006; the FEC complaint was settled on the same day, with the settlement filed on June 21. Fieger's suggesting that Cummins was fired (in June 2006) for refusing to criminally charge Little Rock lawyer Tab Turner for campaign finance violations.
Understand--I can't speak to the merit of Fieger's allegations (and he is certainly trying to match criminal allegation with criminal allegation, rather than deny the truth of the allegation itself). But they're certainly intriguing issues--particularly if he has real reason to believe that Bud Cummins was fired for refusing to charge an Edwards donor [oops--fixed thanks to bmaz].
Update: Ugly syntax issues fixed.