Tomorrow, Dick Thornburgh, the attorney general for the final year of George H. W. Bush's presidency, will testify to Congress about his experience of the politicization of the Justice Department.
Read More →
Thornburgh's run-in with Alberto Gonzales' DoJ came via the case of Dr. Cyril Wecht, a celebrity forensic pathologist, prominent Pennsylvania Democrat, and up until his indictment on a raft of fraud charges, coroner of Allegheny County. Thornburgh is one of Wecht's defense lawyers, and his complaints stem from what he's called the "sheer intensity" of the investigation, which involves relatively minor accusations that Thornburgh says should have been handled by the state ethics commission.
As a means of showing the relative triviality of the charges (the 84-count indictment doesn't put a price tag on Wecht's fraud), Wecht's lawyers have calculated that the cumulative cost for the 37 charges in the indictment that involve improperly charging the county for gasoline and mileage costs add up to $1,778.55. The most colorful of the charges, of course, involve the elaborate body snatching scheme: prosecutors allege that Wecht gave a local Catholic university unclaimed bodies in exchange for laboratory space.
The source of the investigation's "intensity" is U.S. Attorney for Pittsburgh Mary Beth Buchanan, a member of the DoJ's inner circle who played a role in the U.S. attorney firings. It's not the first time that Buchanan has drawn fire. During the heat of the scandal, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the district (from 1995-2000, before Buchanan took over) publicly called on Buchanan to resign because of "the extent to which she has looked to Washington for direction and political advancement." Or to put it in plainer terms: Buchanan has prosecuted a number of Democrats but no Republicans.
According to Wecht's lawyers, Thornburgh among them, Buchanan's office was single-minded in their pursuit of their high-profile quarry. Although Wecht holds the modest position of county coroner, he's a prominent Democrat in the state, even once running for the Senate in 1982. And it's only a minor exaggeration to say that he's made an appearance in just about every well-known murder case in the past 30 years, including O.J. Simpson, JonBenet Ramsey, Vincent W. Foster Jr., Martha von BÃ¼low, not to mention Elvis Presley and both Kennedy brothers.
Here's Thornburgh's story, which he laid out in an affidavit this summer and will tell to the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow. Not long after Thornburgh began representing Wecht in the summer of 2005, Buchanan began pressing to indict him on a number of fraud charges. Finally, in December, she sent him a target letter, usually a sign of imminent indictment.