According to Harvey Silverglate, when US Attorneys like Carmen Ortiz are investigating state pols, Ortiz is really exceeding her authorization. Silverglate calls her regime Reign of Terror – inaccurately – and points out that the McDonnell case in front of the Supreme Court is liable to change the way all US Attorneys will be allowed to deal with state political corruption.
I suspect Silverglate is right about the fallout from the McDonnell case. And it’s a fairly big deal. It’s a consequential thing that’s liable to happen unbeknownst to many, with little following in the national or state press – with the impact being felt mostly in the states.
The effect to Massachusetts will be direct. We have the dubious distinction of having three House speakers convicted of felonies in federal court, and the fourth an unindicted co-conspirator. If it makes us feel better, we are not completely alone: Sheldon Silver, long time assembly speaker in New York state, was recently prosecuted by the office of Preet Bharara and found with millions of dollars in kickbacks and bribes.
Depending on the US Supreme Court decision in the McDonnell case, this oversight regime by the US Attorneys could come to an end.
If that happens, we should expect more things to go under cover and in the dark. What’ll be the incentive for the press to report shady things and corruption of state officials, if no one is left with legal standing to follow up the leads?
The State Attorney General, at least in Massachusetts, simply does not get involved in these kinds of investigations. State law does not give Maura Healey the tools to do so, and political ambition makes it unwise even if better legal tools were available to pursue corruption of state pols.
Observers of the suit say it’s quite likely that the US Supreme Court will give the corrupt pols a break. Writes Slate: “…It seems obvious to the justices that public corruption and ethics rules are adorable, antiquated, and unenforceable because everybody does it.”
…It’s a nice refrain, inspired by an old Cole Porter song – now played in defense of political corruption:
“And that’s why birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it…”